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Life after treatment

For most people, the cancer experience doesn’t end on the last day of treatment. Life after cancer treatment can present its own challenges. You may have mixed feelings when treatment ends, and worry that every ache and pain means the cancer is coming back.

Some people say that they feel pressure to return to “normal life”. It is important to allow yourself time to adjust to the physical and emotional changes, and establish a new daily routine at your own pace. Your family and friends may also need time to adjust.

Cancer Council 13 11 20 can help you connect with other people who have had cancer, and provide you with information about the emotional and practical aspects of living well after cancer.

Download our booklet ‘Living Well after Cancer’

After treatment ends, you will have regular appointments to monitor your health, manage any ongoing side effects and check that the cancer hasn’t come back or spread. How often you see your doctor will depend on the cancer type and treatments. During the check-ups, you can discuss how you’re feeling and mention any concerns, and you may have tests such as cystoscopies, CT scans and x-rays.

People who still have a bladder will have regular follow-up cystoscopies because they are the best way to detect bladder cancer that has come back. The cystoscopy may be done in hospital in the outpatient department under local anaesthetic or in an operating theatre under general anaesthetic.

Depending on the stage and grade of the bladder cancer you had, you will need a follow-up cystoscopy every 3–12 months. This may continue for several years or for the rest of your life, but will become less frequent over time. Between follow-up appointments, let your doctor know immediately of any symptoms or health problems.

Sometimes bladder cancer does come back after treatment, which is known as a recurrence. If the cancer recurs, it can usually be removed while it is still in the early stages. This will require a cystoscopy under general anaesthetic. If this isn’t possible, your doctor may consider removal of the bladder (cystectomy). Some people need other types of treatment, such as chemotherapy, immunotherapy or radiation therapy. The treatment you have will depend on the stage, grade and risk category of the cancer and your preferences.

If you have continued feelings of sadness, have trouble getting up in the morning or have lost motivation to do things that previously gave you pleasure, you may be experiencing depression. This is quite common among people who have had cancer.

Talk to your GP, as counselling or medication – even for a short time – may help. Some people can get a Medicare rebate for sessions with a psychologist. Ask your doctor if you are eligible. Cancer Council SA also runs a free counselling program.

For information about coping with depression and anxiety, call Beyond Blue on 1300 22 4636 or visit beyondblue.org.au. For 24-hour crisis support, call Lifeline 13 11 14 or visit lifeline.org.au.

This information is reviewed by

This information was last reviewed in February 2020 by the following expert content reviewers: Prof Dickon Hayne, UWA Medical School, The University of Western Australia, and Head, Urology, South Metropolitan Health Service, WA; BEAT Bladder Cancer Australia; Dr Anne Capp, Senior Staff Specialist, Radiation Oncology, Calvary Mater Newcastle, NSW; Marc Diocera, Genitourinary Nurse Consultant, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, VIC; Dr Peter Heathcote, Senior Urologist, Princess Alexandra Hospital, and Adjunct Professor, Australian Prostate Cancer Research Centre, QLD; Melissa Le Mesurier, Consumer; Dr James Lynam, Medical Oncologist Staff Specialist, Calvary Mater Newcastle and The University of Newcastle, NSW; John McDonald, Consumer; Michael Twycross, Consumer; Rosemary Watson, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council Victoria.