Advances in early detection and treatment mean that many people with cancer are cured. But doctors can never be certain that the cancer will not come back. Undetected cancer cells can remain in the body after treatment. Although the cancer seems to be completely removed or destroyed, it can return. Doctors call this a recurrence.
To find out whether the cancer has returned, your doctor may do a physical exam and order lab tests, x-rays, and other tests. If you have a recurrence, you and your doctor will decide on new treatment goals and a new treatment plan.
During follow-up exams, the doctor also checks for other problems, such as side effects from cancer therapy that can arise long after treatment. Checkups help ensure that changes in health are noted and treated if needed. Between scheduled visits, you should contact the doctor if any health problems occur.
Facing Forward: Life After Cancer Treatment is an NCI booklet for people who have completed their treatment. It answers questions about follow-up care and other concerns. It has tips for making the best use of medical visits. It also suggests ways to talk with the doctor about creating a plan of action for recovery and future health.