What happens after treatment for 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. You may get regular treatments with chemotherapy, radiation 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. Our document When Cancer Doesn’t Go Away talks more about this.
During and after treatment, your doctors will want to watch you closely. 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 remaining, many doctors recommend follow-up visits (which may include CT scans and blood tests) about every 3 months for the first couple of years after treatment, about every 6 months for the next several years, then at least yearly after 5 years. Some doctors may advise different follow-up schedules.
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 ask your health care team any questions you need answered and to discuss any concerns you might have.
Each type of treatment for lung cancer 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 report any new symptoms right away, and 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. Radiation therapy, chemotherapy, or other types of treatment might be helpful. For more on how recurrent cancer is treated, see the section “Treatment choices by stage for small cell lung cancer.” For more general information on dealing with a recurrence, you may also want to look at 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 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 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, 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: 09/12/2014
Last Revised: 01/20/2015