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Cancer Survivorship: Life After Cancer 

Cancer treatments keep getting better every year. Today, millions of people are living life after cancer. But after you finish cancer treatment, what’s next? Healthcare providers are still learning about what survivors need. And for many cancer survivors, there are still issues to deal with as they adjust to life after cancer. 

What is cancer survivorship? 

A cancer survivor is anyone who has ever been told they have cancer. Cancer survivorship starts when a person is diagnosed and lasts the rest of their life. This period of time can include:

  • Getting cancer treatment

  • Managing symptoms and body changes after treatment

  • Coping with your feelings after treatment

  • Managing changes in everyday life that are caused by cancer or cancer treatment

  • Dealing with the cancer if it comes back or if a second cancer is found

  • Having future treatments as needed 

Cancer survivorship is a complex time. There's a lot of transition, change, and adjusting. It’s a time when you and the people who care about you learn to adapt to the “new normal” that comes with cancer. 

What is a survivorship care plan? 

A survivorship care plan (SCP) is a blueprint for moving forward after cancer treatment. Many medical groups advise healthcare providers work with survivors to put together an SCP.

Your plan should outline the kinds of care you may need after treatment, who you will see for that care, and how all of your providers can work together to help you. An SCP can include: 

  • The story of your cancer with dates. This means the type, location, stage, and treatments.

  • Late side effects you need to know about and watch for. And a way to make sure you are treated for them.

  • A way to make sure you are in regular contact with your healthcare providers as needed

  • How to check for a new second cancer or signs that cancer has come back

  • A plan to get regular check-ups and screening tests for your age group

  • Help in making healthy lifestyle changes, so you can manage or prevent problems

  • Resources for support after cancer treatment 

Ask your healthcare team if they can give you an SCP.

Possible problems after cancer treatment

Every kind of cancer treatment, including surgery, radiation, chemotherapy, hormone therapy, or targeted therapy, is hard on your body. Treatment can also be hard on your mental health. It can cause stress, depression, and anxiety. Any of these physical or emotional problems can affect your family life, your work or school life, and your relationships. And after treatment, you may still be at risk for long-term or late side effects. These may include: 

  • Nerve damage (peripheral neuropathy)

  • Swelling because of removed lymph nodes (lymphedema)

  • Tiredness

  • Pain

  • Depression and anxiety

  • Sleep problems

  • Heart problems

  • Bone problems

  • Problems with sexual function and fertility

  • Menopause symptoms

  • Trouble remembering, thinking, and paying attention

  • Mouth problems 

Staying healthy after cancer 

Cancer and cancer treatment is hard on your body. You’ll need to take good care of yourself after cancer. There may be new things you have to think about. For instance, you may be more at risk for infections. You may also be at risk for cancer coming back. Or you may be at higher risk for a new, second cancer. Talk with your healthcare team about how to help lower these risks. Staying healthy can help. So, take good care of yourself:  

  • Eat a healthy diet

  • Get regular physical activity

  • Protect yourself from the sun

  • Don’t smoke

  • Limit alcohol

  • Practice good oral health care

  • Get a flu shot every year and other vaccines as advised by your healthcare provider

  • Keep your social life active

  • Talk with a counselor or other therapist if you need to 

  • Get regular health check-ups and the cancer screening tests that are right for you

Talk with your healthcare provider if you need help with any of these. 

Working with your healthcare team going forward

You may need different kinds of care after cancer to help you deal with after-effects of treatment. You'll likely need ongoing support in various ways.

After treatment, you won’t see your cancer care team as often. This can be stressful because they may have become a big part of your life. Now your primary healthcare provider will take over your care. But you'll still have follow-up appointments with your cancer team. These are needed to check for side effects, any signs of returning cancer, or signs of a second cancer. Keep all your appointments. 

Call your healthcare provider if you have any new symptoms or symptoms that come back. At first, you may need to get tests every few months or so to make sure the cancer hasn’t come back. You’ll see your cancer care team and be tested less often as time goes on.

Getting support

One of the keys to moving forward after cancer is getting the support you and your family need as you adjust to the changes cancer brings. Talk with your healthcare team, get the help you need. You can also connect with other cancer survivors and find support from groups like these:

Online Medical Reviewer: Jessica Gotwals RN BSN MPH
Online Medical Reviewer: Kimberly Stump-Sutliff RN MSN AOCNS
Online Medical Reviewer: Todd Gersten MD
Date Last Reviewed: 7/1/2022
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