What happens after treatment for gastrointestinal stromal tumors?
For some people with a gastrointestinal stromal tumor (GIST), 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’s called a recurrence.) This is a very common concern for 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 leading full lives. See Living With Uncertainty: The Fear of Cancer Recurrence for more on this.
For other people, the GIST may never go away completely. These people may get regular treatments with targeted therapy or other therapies to help keep the cancer in check. Learning to live with cancer as more of a chronic disease can be difficult and very stressful. It has its own type of uncertainty. See When Cancer Doesn’t Go Away for more about this.
Whether you have completed treatment or are still being treated, your doctors will still want to watch you closely. It is very important to go to all follow-up appointments. During these visits, your doctors will ask about symptoms, physically exam you, and may order blood tests or imaging tests like CT scans. Follow-up is needed to check for signs of cancer recurrence or spread, as well as possible side effects of certain treatments. This is the time for you to ask your health care team any questions you need answered and to discuss any concerns you might have.
Because of the risk that a GIST may come back after treatment, most doctors recommend follow-up visits and imaging tests like CT scans every 3 to 6 months for at least several years after treatment. If you are still being treated with imatinib (or any other drug), you will also need to have CT scans to make sure that the drug is still working
Almost any cancer treatment can have side effects. Some may last for a few weeks to several months, but others can last the rest of your life. Don’t hesitate to tell your cancer care team about any symptoms or side effects that bother you so they can help you manage them.
If cancer does recur, treatment will depend on the location of the cancer and what treatments you’ve had before. For more information on how recurrent cancer is treated, see “Treatment choices based on tumor spread.” For more general information on dealing with a recurrence, see When Your Cancer Comes Back: Cancer Recurrence.
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’s important that you 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
- Copies of imaging tests (CT or MRI scans, etc.), which can usually be stored on a CD, DVD, etc.
- If you had surgery, a copy of your operative report(s)
- If you stayed in the hospital, a copy of the discharge summary that doctors prepare when patients are sent home
- If you had targeted therapy or chemotherapy, a list of the drugs, drug doses, and when you took them
- If you had radiation therapy, a summary of the type and dose of radiation and when and where it was given
It is also 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.
Last Medical Review: 04/04/2014
Last Revised: 02/08/2016