For some women with cervical cancer, treatment may remove or destroy the cancer. Completing treatment can be both stressful and exciting. You might 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 concern is very common 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. You can read it online, or call us to have a free copy sent to you.
For other women, the cancer may never go away completely. These women 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.
After your treatment ends, your doctors will still want to watch you closely. Ask what kind of follow-up schedule you can expect. 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 examine you. You will get regular pelvic exams. Most doctors recommend that women treated for cervical cancer keep getting regular Pap tests no matter how they were treated (cone biopsy, hysterectomy, trachelectomy, or radiation). Although normally cells for a Pap test are from the cervix, if you no longer have a cervix (because you had a trachelectomy or hysterectomy), the cells will be sampled from the upper part of the vagina (known as the vaginal cuff). Lab tests and x-rays or other imaging tests may also be done look for signs of cancer and long term effects of treatment.
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. The visits with your doctor are 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. These exams also give your doctor a way to watch you for signs of the cancer coming back or a new cancer. Women who had cervical cancer have an increased risk of getting vaginal cancer, and are also at risk of getting another HPV related cancer or, more rarely, a cancer that may have been caused by treatment.
It is important to keep your 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.
Seeing a new doctor
At some point after your cancer diagnosis and treatment, you may find yourself seeing a new doctor who does not know anything about your medical history. It is important for you to be able to give your new doctor the details of your diagnosis and treatment. Gathering these details soon after treatment may be easier than trying to get them at some point in the future. Make sure you have this 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 had radiation therapy, a copy of the treatment summary
- If you had chemotherapy, a list of the drugs, drug doses, and when you took them
- Copies of your x-rays and other imaging studies (these can often be put on a DVD)
The doctor may want copies of this information for his records, but always keep copies for yourself.
Last Revised: 01/29/2016