What happens after treatment for stomach cancer?
For some people with stomach 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 coming back. (When cancer returns, it is called recurrence.) This is a very common concern among those 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. Living with Uncertainty: The Fear of Cancer Recurrence gives more detailed information on this.
In other people, the cancer may never go away completely. These people may get regular treatments with chemotherapy, radiation therapy, or other therapies to try to help keep the cancer in check. Learning to live with cancer that does not go away can be difficult and very stressful. It has its own type of uncertainty. 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 questions about any problems you are having and may do exams and lab or imaging tests to look for signs of cancer or treatment side effects. Almost any cancer treatment can have side effects. Some 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.
Most doctors recommend careful follow-up, with a physical exam and review of symptoms every 3 to 6 months for the first few years, then at least yearly after that. Lab tests might also be done. Scans are not usually needed at each visit, but should be done if there are any suspicious symptoms or physical findings.
If you have had surgery, your health care team may suggest that you meet with a nutritionist, who can help you adjust to changes in your eating habits.
People who have had surgery — especially if they had the upper part of their stomach removed (in either a subtotal or total gastrectomy) — will probably need to have their vitamin blood levels tested regularly and may need to get vitamin supplements, which may include B12 injections. (The pill form of vitamin B12 isn’t absorbed if the upper part of the stomach has been removed.)
It is important to keep your health insurance during this time. Tests and doctor visits can cost a lot, and even though no one wants to think of their cancer coming back, this could happen.
Should your cancer come back, When Your Cancer Comes Back: Cancer Recurrence can give you information on how to manage and cope with this phase of your treatment.
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. 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 or targeted therapies, a list of the drugs, drug doses, and when you took them
- Copies of your x-rays and imaging tests (these can often be placed on a DVD)
Last Medical Review: 05/20/2014
Last Revised: 02/10/2016