After you’ve finished your treatments for colorectal cancer, follow-up care is very important. Regular checkups can help find any changes in your health, and if the cancer comes back (or “recurs”), it can be treated as soon as possible.
Checking for Recurrence
You can help by telling your doctor about any signs or symptoms, changes in your health, or pain that you have.
Depending on the stage of your cancer when it was treated, you may need:
Regular exams (every 3-6 months) with your doctor. A routine physical examination can help to check for any signs of recurrence.
A colonoscopy. Many doctors recommend this test within 6 months after colorectal cancer surgery. If results are normal, you may not need another one for a year, and then every 3 years if your results stay normal. You can talk about the schedule with your doctor.
A CEA test. Some, but not all, cancers shed a protein called CEA (carcinoembryonic antigen) into a person's bloodstream. Your doctor may check your CEA level before you start treatment and again after treatment to see if it has come down. If the CEA level begins to rise again, it may be a sign that the cancer has come back. This test is most useful in the first 2 years after treatment. This is when the cancer is most likely to return.
CT scans. Doctors recommend CT scans of the chest, abdomen, and pelvis on a regular schedule for 3 years in people who are at high risk for recurrence.
What Else You Should Bring Up
There’s more to follow-up care than making sure that the cancer doesn’t come back.
It’s also a good idea to tell your doctor about any supplements you take, even “natural” products or vitamins and minerals. That way, your doctor can check on anything that might have side effects or interact with any medicines you take.
Last but definitely not least, if you feel down or anxious, tell your doctor that, too. She may be able to recommend a counselor you can talk to and a support group.