Now that your treatment for colon cancer is over, you'll need good follow-up care in order to live a full and healthy life. That means regular check-ups with your oncologist and primary care doctor to help you maintain the progress you've made.
Here are some of the things you'll want to think about as you move forward.
You may need to see many different doctors during the months and years after you've finished cancer treatment. Your oncologist will usually start out as your main contact. He'll be the one to give you a schedule for screenings and tests.
He may ask your primary care doctor to take over your follow-up care at some point. If that happens, be sure to give your doctor a summary of your cancer treatment that includes:
- Your follow-up plan from your oncologist
- Names and doses of all your chemotherapy drugs or other medicines
- The dates and specifics of your diagnosis (including cancer stage and other details)
- Any side effects or complications of treatment
- Types and dates of all surgeries and locations where they were done
- Dates and amounts of radiation and where it was done
- Contact info for all of your doctors
You also should keep a copy of this summary. Bring it with you for all your appointments since you may not always see the same doctor.
What types of screenings you have and how often you get them will depend on the type and stage of cancer you had and the treatments you got. You'll likely need check-ups three to four times a year during the first two or three years after treatment and one or two times a year after that. These might include:
- A physical exam.
- Colonoscopy -- usually one year after surgery. Your doctor can tell you how often you'll need one.
- CT scans of the chest, abdomen, and possibly pelvis every 6 to 12 months for the first 3 years.
- CEA blood test every 3 to 6 months for 5 years. High levels of CEA protein in the blood may mean cancer cells have spread.
If you need to change doctors, you'll have to give your new doctor all the details of your cancer diagnosis and treatment. Give him a copy of the summary you've been taking to appointments, and make sure you transfer all of your medical records. You'll need to ask your former doctors for all of these things:
- Pathology reports from biopsies and surgeries
- Operative report from surgery
- Discharge summary after hospitalization
- Radiation treatment records
- Details of chemotherapy such as drug names, doses, and how you took them
- Digital copies of any CT, PET, and MRI scans
When to Call the Doctor
Call your doctor anytime you have any discomfort like pain or nausea. There are drugs and other treatments to ease these symptoms and keep you feeling as good as possible. This is called palliative care or symptom management. It's meant to improve your quality of life, not cure disease. But it can be used along with any active cancer treatment.
Don't wait until a regularly scheduled follow-up appointment if you're having any of these issues -- call your doctor right away:
- Abdominal pain, weight loss, or blood in your stool
- Fatigue that gets in the way of your daily life
- Problems with your bowel movements, bladder, or sexual function
- Mental changes, like difficulty concentrating, anxiety, depression, or memory loss
- Trouble sleeping
- Changes in your family medical history, like relatives who've recently been diagnosed with cancer