Follow-up care after radiation therapy

What does “follow up” mean?

No matter what type of cancer you’ve had, you’ll need regular doctor visits to check your progress after radiation treatment ends. You may need help dealing with any problems that may come up, too. This phase of your treatment is called follow-up care.

Your follow-up care will include checking the results of your treatment, but it might also include more cancer treatment, rehabilitation, and counseling. It may include visits with your primary care doctor, surgeon, medical oncologist (a doctor specially trained to treat patients with chemotherapy), and your radiation oncologist. Your follow-up care will depend on the type of cancer and other treatments you have had or will have.

Questions you may want to ask after radiation therapy:

  • When can I go back to normal activities?
  • How often will I need to see you?
  • Which tests will be done and why?
  • What symptoms or side effects should I look for and let you know about?
  • When can I wear a prosthesis (an artificial replacement for a part of the body that has been removed due to cancer) or have reconstructive surgery?
  • Do I need to follow a special diet?
  • When can I go back to having sex or trying to have a baby?

Care after radiation therapy

For a short time after your treatment, you’ll need to continue some of the special care used during treatment. For instance, if you still have skin problems after your treatment ends, be gentle with the skin in the treatment area until all signs of irritation are gone. You also may need extra rest while your healthy tissues are rebuilding and healing. You may need to limit your activities to save energy and not try to go back to a full schedule right away.

Pain after therapy

Some people need help managing pain that continues after radiation therapy. Unless directed by your cancer care team, do not use heat or cold to relieve pain in any area treated with radiation. Talk to your cancer care team and describe the location and type of pain in as much detail as possible. Keep working with your team until you’re able to get it under control.

To learn more about pain and how to manage it, see Cancer Pain.

When should I call my cancer care team?

After treatment, you’re likely to be very aware of your body and any slight changes in how you feel from day to day. If you have any of the problems listed here, tell your cancer care team right away:

  • Pain that doesn’t go away or gets worse
  • New lumps, bumps, or swelling
  • Nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, loss of appetite, or trouble swallowing
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Fever or cough that doesn’t go away
  • Unusual rashes, bruises, or bleeding
  • Any other signs or symptoms your cancer care team tells you to watch for

Don’t hesitate to let your team know about any new problems or concerns you have. It’s always best to find out the cause of a problem so it can be dealt with right away.

What about going back to work?

If you have stopped working, you can return to your job as soon as you and your cancer care team believe you are up to it. Some people are even able to work during their radiation therapy. If your job requires lifting or heavy physical activity, you may need to change your routine until you’ve regained your strength.

If you have any questions about your work, health insurance, or rights as an employee, call us. We have information that may be helpful.

What records do I need to keep?

You’ll want to get copies of your treatment records to keep. It’s important that you be able to give any new doctor you might see in the future the details of your diagnosis and treatment. Gathering these details soon after your treatment may be easier than trying to get them at some point in the future. Make sure you have this information for your own records:

  • A copy of your pathology report from any biopsy or surgery
  • If you had surgery, a copy of your operative report
  • A copy of your radiation therapy treatment summary
  • If you stayed in the hospital, a copy of the discharge summary that was written when you were sent home
  • A list of the cancer treatment drugs you took, the drug doses, and when you took them

Any time you see a new doctor, be sure that you make copies of these records and keep your originals for yourself. After a certain period of time, doctors’ offices and hospitals destroy this kind of information.

The American Cancer Society medical and editorial content team
Our team is made up of doctors and master’s-prepared nurses with deep knowledge of cancer care as well as journalists, editors, and translators with extensive experience in medical writing.

Last Medical Review: June 30, 2015 Last Revised: June 30, 2015

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