Medical Concerns After Treatment Ends

Today, researchers and health care providers have a better understanding of cancer and post-treatment survivorship. For instance, doctors now know that many cancer survivors experience some type of physical symptoms resulting from medical treatments they received for their cancer. Some side effects experienced during treatment can continue afterward, while other side effects may show up months or even years later. And although some side effects can be temporary, others may be longer lasting, serious, or even life-threatening. It’s important to let your health care team know about any symptoms you experience so they can help you manage them. Common side effects resulting from cancer treatment can include:

Fatigue. You may notice becoming tired more quickly when doing routine tasks or lacking the energy for activities you used to enjoy.

Memory and thinking problems. Often called “chemobrain,” this side effect of chemotherapy causes some people to have trouble concentrating or remembering things.

Changes in your diet. The way in which certain foods taste, the foods your body will tolerate, and your ability to taste or enjoy food may be affected.

Dental problems. Some cancer treatments can cause symptoms like dry mouth or increase the risk of developing long-term dental issues like gum disease.

Bone or joint pain. Some people may develop bone thinning (osteoporosis) or joint pain as a result of their treatments, so it’s important to maintain bone health with medications your doctor may prescribe and/or a proper diet.

Changes in appearance. Hair loss or scars from cancer surgery can affect how you feel about your body and your perception of how others see you.

Neuropathy. Some chemotherapies can cause numbness, tingling, or pain in the hands or feet.

Lymphedema. When lymph nodes are removed during cancer surgery, swelling in the arms, legs, neck, or face may occur because of fluids that build up in those areas.

Changes in intimacy and sexuality. Both women and men can experience changes in fertility (ability to have children), sexual functioning, or how they feel about their body or appearance, which can affect intimacy.

Lingering side effects can be frustrating, especially when you expect to feel better now that treatment is over. Keep in mind, though, that many side effects gradually lessen with time as your body heals and recovers from treatment. However, people experience these changes at different rates and in individual ways. It can be very useful to keep a daily log of any side effects you experience. Note the date and time the symptoms occur and rate them on a scale of 1 to 10 to measure how strongly they affect you. Even consider recording other details including the activity you’re engaged in when you first notice the symptom and whether any relief measures you try are effective. These notes will make it easier to share details of your symptoms with your doctor and may guide your doctor in finding more effective strategies to help you manage your symptoms in the future.

Because of side effects and other health conditions that can occur, finishing cancer treatment gives way to a new period of follow-up care. During this time, your health care team continues to monitor you. This is often referred to, in medical terms, as “surveillance.” Your doctors check for side effects such as those discussed above. They also look for symptoms of recurrence (the return of a cancer), cancer spreading to other parts of the body, or new cancers developing.