Moving on after treatment for stomach cancer
For some people with stomach cancer, treatment may remove or destroy the cancer. Finishing treatment can be both stressful and exciting. You may be relieved to be done with 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 people who have had cancer have learned to live with this uncertainty and are leading full lives. Our document, Living with Uncertainty: The Fear of Cancer Recurrence gives more details about this.
In other people, the cancer may never go away completely. These people may get regular treatments with chemotherapy, radiation, or other treatments to try to help keep the cancer in check. Learning to live with cancer that does not go away can be hard and very stressful. Our document, When Cancer Doesn’t Go Away, talks more about this.
If you have finished treatment, your doctors will still want to watch you closely. During these visits, they will ask about symptoms, do physical exams, and perhaps do lab tests or other tests like CT scans. Follow-up is needed to watch for treatment side effects and to check for cancer that has come back or spread.
Almost any cancer treatment can have side effects. Some may last for a few weeks or months, but others can last the rest of your life. 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.
Most doctors will want to see you every 3 to 6 months for the first few years, then at least once a year after that. Scans and lab tests are not usually needed at each visit, but might be done if you are having any symptoms or physical problems.
Having surgery for stomach cancer will likely mean that your eating habits will need to change to some extent. You probably won’t be able to eat large amounts of food at one time. 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 — will likely need to have their vitamin blood levels tested and may need to get vitamin supplements, which may include B12 shots (injections). Surgery for stomach cancer often causes problems with your body absorbing vitamin B12, so it can’t be taken as a pill.
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.
Should your cancer come back, our document When Your Cancer Comes Back: Cancer Recurrence helps you manage and cope with this phase of your treatment. You can read it online or call us for a free copy.
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 biopsies or surgeries
- If you had surgery, a copy of your operative report
- If you stayed in the hospital, a copy of the discharge summary the doctor wrote when you were sent home
- If you had radiation treatment, a copy of the treatment summary
- If you had chemotherapy or targeted therapies, a list of your 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: 03/18/2013
Last Revised: 04/22/2014