What happens after treatment for non-small cell lung cancer?
For some people with lung 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 growing or 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 some other people, the lung cancer may never go away completely. These people may get regular treatments with chemotherapy, radiation therapy, or other therapies to help keep the cancer in check. Learning to live with cancer as a more of a chronic disease can be difficult and very stressful. It has its own type of uncertainty. Our document called When Cancer Doesn’t Go Away talks more about this.
If you have completed treatment, 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 about any problems you may have and may do exams and lab tests or imaging tests (such as x-rays or CT scans).
In people with no signs of cancer remaining, many doctors recommend follow-up visits and CT scans about every 6 to 12 months for the first 2 years after treatment, and yearly visits and CT scans after this, although doctor visits might be more frequent at first.
Follow-up is needed to look for signs of cancer recurrence or spread, as well as possible side effects of certain treatments. This is a good time for you to talk to your cancer care team about any changes or problems you notice and any questions or concerns you have.
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. Be sure to tell your cancer care team about any symptoms or side effects that bother you so they can help you manage them.
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.
If cancer does recur, treatment will depend on where the cancer is and what treatments you’ve had before. Surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, targeted therapy, or some combination of these might be options. Other types of treatment might also be used to help relieve any symptoms from the cancer. For more on how recurrent cancer is treated, see the section “Treatment choices by stage for non-small cell lung cancer.” For more general information on dealing with a recurrence, you may also want to see our document 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 about your medical history. It is 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
- 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 radiation therapy, a copy of the treatment summary
- If you had chemotherapy or targeted therapies, a list of the drugs, drug doses, and when you took them
- Copies of your x-rays, CT scans, and other imaging tests (these can often be stored digitally on a DVD, etc.)
Last Medical Review: 05/22/2013
Last Revised: 02/10/2014