What happens after treatment for prostate cancer?
For most men with prostate 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 leading full lives. Our document, Living With Uncertainty: The Fear of Cancer Recurrence, gives more detailed information on this.
For other men, the cancer may return or may never go away completely. These men may get treatment with hormone therapy or other therapies to help keep the cancer in check for as long as possible. 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.
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 questions about any problems you may have and may do exams and lab tests or imaging tests to look for signs of cancer or treatment side effects.
Your doctor should give you a follow-up plan. This plan usually includes regular doctor visits, PSA blood tests, and digital rectal exams, which will likely begin within a few months of finishing treatment. Most doctors recommend PSA tests about every 6 months for the first 5 years after treatment, and at least yearly after that. Bone scans or other imaging tests may also be done, depending on your medical situation.
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. This is 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.
Prostate cancer can recur many years after initial treatment, which is why it is important to keep regular doctor visits and report any new symptoms (such as bone pain or problems with urination).
Should your prostate cancer come back, your treatment options will depend on where it is thought to be located and what types of treatment you've already had. For more information, see the section, "Prostate cancer that remains or recurs after treatment." For more general information on dealing with a recurrence, you may also want to see the document, When Your Cancer Comes Back: Cancer Recurrence. You can get this document by calling 1-800-227-2345.
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 that you be able to give your new doctor the details of your diagnosis and treatment. 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 had radiation therapy, a copy of your treatment summary
- Copies of imaging tests (CT or MRI scans, etc.), which can usually be stored on a CD, DVD, etc.
- If you stayed in the hospital, a copy of the discharge summary that doctors prepare when patients are sent home
- If you had hormone therapy, chemotherapy, or other drug treatments, a list of your drugs, drug doses, and when you took them
The doctor may want copies of this information for his records, but always keep copies for yourself.
It is also 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.
Last Medical Review: 02/27/2012
Last Revised: 05/15/2013