After treatment, your doctor may tell you that your non-Hodgkin's lymphoma is in "remission," which means your cancer isn't active anymore. It's natural to feel a swirl of emotions, but you'll also have a bunch of questions about what comes next.
You'll probably need regular checkups and tests to look for signs the disease may have returned. Your doctor will also suggest ways you can keep yourself in all-around good health.
Your oncologist will tell you how often you'll need to see him for a checkup. At each visit, he'll probably do a thorough physical exam, ask you about any symptoms you have, and draw some blood for lab tests.
He'll tailor your schedule based on your specific needs, but an average appointment routine might look like this:
- Every 2 to 6 months for the first year or two after remission
- Every 6 to 12 months in the third through fifth years after remission.
- Once a year if it's more than 5 years since remission
At some point after the 5-year mark, your oncologist may suggest that you get routine care from your primary care doctor instead of appointments with a specialist.
To Scan or Not to Scan?
Your doctor may ask you to get CT scans at your early follow-up appointments. They let him see whether non-Hodgkin's lymphoma has returned.
Recent research, though, shows that scans aren't any better at checking for signs that cancer has come back than blood tests and physical exams. So if you're not getting any scans as part of your follow-up care, it doesn't mean you're not getting the right care. Your doctor is simply using other ways to make sure you stay healthy.
But if lab tests or your symptoms show signs that your non-Hodgkin's lymphoma is coming back, you'll probably get a scan.
Besides regular checkups, it's important to keep on top of your health in other ways when you're in remission from non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. So think about taking these steps:
- Visit your primary care doctor once a year.
- Get routine tests to measure your blood pressure, cholesterol and triglyceride levels, and thyroid function.
- Get a flu vaccine every year and a pneumonia vaccine every 5 years.
- If you're a woman, get a mammogram every year beginning at age 40. If you had radiation therapy and are younger than 40, your doctor may recommend starting mammograms ahead of schedule or getting regular MRI scans of your breasts.
Your doctor may recommend other tests, depending on your chance of getting other cancers and where your non-Hodgkin's lymphoma was located. Some of these are:
- Pulmonary function tests to measure how well your lungs are working
- Skin exams
- Low-dose chest CT scans if you've smoked the equivalent of a pack of cigarettes a day for 30 years
- Ultrasounds that look at the arteries in your neck