Lung Cancer (non-small cell) Overview

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After Treatment TOPICS

Moving on after treatment for non-small cell lung cancer

For some people with lung cancer, treatment may remove or destroy the cancer. It can feel good to be done with treatment, but it can also be stressful. You may find that you now worry about the cancer coming back. This is a very common concern among those who have had cancer. (When cancer comes back, it is called a recurrence.)

It may take a while before your recovery begins to feel real and your fears are somewhat relieved. You can learn more about what to look for and how to learn to live with the chance of cancer coming back in Living With Uncertainty: The Fear of Cancer Recurrence.

But for some people, the lung cancer may never go away completely. These people may get regular treatments with chemotherapy, radiation, or other types of treatments to help keep the cancer in check. Learning to live with cancer more like a chronic disease can be hard and stressful. It has its own type of uncertainty. Our document called When Cancer Doesn’t Go Away talks more about this.

Follow-up care

If you have finished treatment, it is very important to keep all follow-up appointments. During these visits, your doctors will ask about symptoms, do physical exams, and may order blood tests or imaging tests, such as CT scans or x-rays.

In people with no signs of cancer, most 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 check for signs that the cancer has come back or spread, as well as possible side effects of certain treatments. Almost any cancer treatment can have side effects. Some may last for a few weeks or months, but others can be permanent. Please tell your cancer care team about any symptoms or side effects that bother you so they can help you manage them. Use this time to ask your health care team questions and discuss any concerns you might have.

If your cancer comes back, treatment will depend on the location of the cancer and what treatments you’ve had before. Further treatment may involve surgery, radiation, chemo, targeted therapy, or some combination of these. 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.

It is also important to keep health insurance. While you hope your cancer won’t come back, it could happen. If it does, you don’t want to have to worry about paying for treatment.

Seeing a new doctor

At some point after your cancer is found and treated, you may find yourself in the office of a new doctor. It is important that you be able to give your new doctor the exact 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 and always keep copies for yourself:

  • A copy of your pathology report from any biopsy or surgery
  • If you had surgery, a copy of your operative report
  • If you stayed in the hospital, a copy of the discharge summary that the doctor wrote when you were sent home
  • If you had radiation treatment, a copy of the treatment summary
  • If you had chemo or targeted therapies, a list of your 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: 09/05/2013
Last Revised: 02/11/2014