What happens after treatment for anal cancer?
For some people with anal cancer, treatment may remove or destroy the cancer. Completing treatment can be both stressful and exciting. You may be relieved to finish treatment, but find it hard not to worry about cancer coming back. (When cancer comes back after treatment, it is called recurrence.) This is a very common concern in people who have had cancer.
It may take a while before your fears lessen. But it may help to know that many cancer survivors have learned to live with this uncertainty and are living full lives. Our document, Living with Uncertainty: The Fear of Cancer Recurrence, gives more detailed information on this.
For other people, the cancer may never go away completely. These people may get regular treatments with chemotherapy, radiation therapy, or other therapies to try to help keep the cancer in check. Learning to live with cancer that does not go away can be difficult and very stressful. It has its own type of uncertainty. Our document, When Cancer Doesn't Go Away, talks more about this.
When treatment ends, your doctors will still want to watch you closely. It is very important to go to all of your follow-up appointments. During these visits, your doctors will ask questions about any problems you may have and may do exams and lab tests or x-rays and scans to look for signs of cancer or treatment side effects. Almost any cancer treatment can have side effects. Some may last for a few weeks to months, but others can last the rest of your life. This is the time for you to talk to your cancer care team about any changes or problems you notice and any questions or concerns you have.
Follow-up doctor visits after chemoradiation may be scheduled as often as every 3 months for at least 2 years. During these visits, your doctor will ask about symptoms and do a physical exam, which will include a rectal exam and an exam of the anus. Blood tests and imaging studies such as CT scans or x-rays may also be ordered.
It is important to keep health insurance. Tests and doctor visits cost a lot, and even though no one wants to think of their cancer coming back, this could happen.
Should your cancer come back our document, When Your Cancer Comes Back: Cancer Recurrence can give you information on how to manage and cope with this phase of your treatment.
For patients with colostomies
Permanent colostomies are rarely needed now to treat anal cancer. If you have a colostomy, follow-up is an important concern. You might feel worried or isolated from normal activities. A wound, ostomy, continence nurse (WOCN) or enterostomal therapist (a health care professional trained to help people with their colostomies) can teach you how to care for your colostomy. You can also ask the American Cancer Society about programs offering information and support in your area. For more information on colostomies, refer to our document, Colostomy: A Guide.
Seeing a new doctor
At some point after your cancer diagnosis and treatment, you might find yourself seeing a new doctor who does not know anything about your medical history. It is important that you be able to give your new doctor the details of your diagnosis and treatment. Make sure you have the following information handy:
- A copy of your pathology report(s) from any biopsies or surgeries
- If you had surgery, a copy of your operative report(s)
- If you were in the hospital, a copy of the discharge summary that doctors prepare when patients are sent home
- If you were treated with radiation, a copy of the treatment summary
- If you were treated with chemotherapy (or other drugs), a list of your drugs, their doses, and when you took them
- Copies of your x-rays and imaging tests (these can be put onto a DVD)
The doctor may want copies of this information for his records, but always keep copies for yourself.
Last Medical Review: 01/02/2013
Last Revised: 01/02/2013