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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 check-ups to monitor your health, manage any long-term side effects and check that the cancer hasn’t come back or spread. You will usually have a physical examination and you may have blood tests (including checking of CEA levels, scans or regular colonoscopies.

How often you will need to see your doctor will depend on the level of monitoring needed for the type and stage of the cancer. Your doctor may want to see you two to four times a year for the first year, twice a year for the next few years, and then yearly for a few years. Check-ups will become less frequent if you have no further problems. Between follow-up appointments, let your doctor know immediately of any symptoms or health problems.

For some people, bowel cancer does come back after treatment, which is known as a recurrence. It is important to have regular check-ups so that if cancer does come back, it can be found early.

If the cancer is confined to the bowel and nearby lymph nodes, it may be possible to surgically remove it. Removing the tumour can help relieve symptoms and, in some cases, may stop the cancer.

If bowel cancer has spread beyond the bowel (advanced or metastatic bowel cancer), you may be offered treatment, such as surgery, chemotherapy, targeted therapy or radiation therapy, to remove the cancer or help control its growth. If your bowel becomes blocked, you will need prompt treatment.

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 January 2019 by the following expert content reviewers: A/Prof Craig Lynch, Colorectal Surgeon, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, VIC; Prof Tim Price, Medical Oncologist, The Queen Elizabeth Hospital, Adelaide, and Clinical Professor, Faculty of Medicine, The University of Adelaide, SA; Department of Dietetics, Liverpool Hospital, NSW; Dr Hooi Ee, Gastroenterologist, Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital, WA; Dr Debra Furniss, Radiation Oncologist, Genesis CancerCare, QLD; Jocelyn Head, Consumer; Jackie Johnston, Palliative Care and Stomal Therapy Clinical Nurse Consultant, St Vincent’s Private Hospital, NSW; Zeinah Keen, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council NSW; Dr Elizabeth Murphy, Head, Colorectal Surgical Unit, Lyell McEwin Hospital, SA.