Please note: This information was current at the time of publication but now may be out of date. This handout provides a general overview and may not apply to everyone. For regularly updated information on a variety of health topics, please visit familydoctor.org, the AAFP patient education website.

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Am Fam Physician. 2005;71(4):713-714

There are many ways to keep track of your health after successful cancer treatment. This kind of care is called follow-up. Each person is different, so follow-up care also will be different. Here are guidelines for some common cancers.

I had surgery for breast cancer two years ago; what tests should be done for follow-up?

Your doctor will check your breasts every six months for the first five years after surgery, and then once every year. You should have a mammogram every year to look for new cancer. You should keep up with the treatments your doctor has started to keep your cancer from coming back. Some of these treatments need tests at regular times. Your doctor will tell you which tests are best for you.

Sometimes breast cancer runs in the family. It is important to talk with your relatives about illnesses that are common in your family. Tell your doctor about your family’s cancer history.

I was diagnosed with colon cancer a year ago; how often should I have a blood test?

You should have a CEA (carcinoembryonic antigen) blood test every three months for the first two years after your cancer diagnosis, then every six months for about five years after that. CEA testing, combined with CT (computed tomographic) scans, can improve survival. Talk to your doctor about how often you should have a CT scan. You should have a colonoscopy one year after your surgery, and again every three years.

My father is 78 years old, and he has finished radiation treatments for prostate cancer. What is the best care for him?

He should get PSA (prostate-specific antigen) blood tests every six months for five years, and then once every year. A rise in PSA levels usually means that the cancer has come back. A digital rectal examination should be done once a year.

Should I tell my doctor that I was treated for cancer as a child?

Yes, this information is important. Your doctor will want to know about your childhood cancer and treatment. The treatments for a childhood cancer can cause problems later in life. These problems include obesity, brittle bones, depression, heart trouble, women’s health issues, and a higher risk of other cancers. Up to 60 percent of adult childhood cancer survivors have at least one ongoing or late-arising health problem.

You can work out a plan for follow-up with your family doctor. You may have to talk to your parents or your childhood doctors to get the best plan for your health care now.

As a cancer patient, do I need to keep seeing my family doctor?

Yes. Regular visits to your family doctor are important. This is how your other medical problems, cancer follow-up, and screening tests are taken care of. Your family doctor will remind you to have pneumonia and flu shots, to get regular exercise, to have a good diet, to watch your weight, and not to use tobacco. You also can talk with your doctor about any physical or mental concerns that might be caused by your cancer or by the treatment.

More information about cancer follow-up can be found:

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