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Life after treatment

For most people, the cancer experience doesn’t end on the last day of treatment. Once your treatment has finished, 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. Ongoing surveillance for small bowel cancer involves a schedule of ongoing scans and physical examinations. How often you will need to see your doctor will depend on the level of monitoring needed for the type and stage of your cancer. Let your doctor know immediately of any health problems between visits.

Some cancer centres work with patients to develop a “survivorship care plan” which usually includes a summary of your treatment, sets out a clear schedule for follow-up care, lists any symptoms to watch out for and possible long-term side effects, identifies any medical or psychosocial problems that may develop and suggests ways to adopt a healthy lifestyle going forward. Maintaining a healthy body weight, eating well and being physically active are all important.

If you don’t have a care plan, ask your specialist for a written summary of your cancer and treatment and make sure a copy is given to your GP and other health care providers.

Download our booklet ‘Living Well after Cancer’

For some people small bowel cancer does come back after treatment, which is known as a recurrence. This is why it’s important to have regular check-ups.

If the cancer does come back, treatment will depend on where the cancer has returned to in your body and may include a mix of surgery, radiation therapy and chemotherapy.

In some cases of advanced cancer, treatment will focus on managing any symptoms, such as pain, and improving your quality of life without trying to cure the disease. This is called palliative treatment. Palliative care can be provided in the home, in a hospital, in a palliative care unit or hospice, or in a residential aged care facility. Services vary, because palliative care is different in each state and territory.

When cancer is no longer responding to active treatment, it can be difficult to think about how and where you want to be cared for towards the end of life. However, it’s essential to talk about what you want with your family and health professionals, so they know what is important to you. Your palliative care team can support you in having these conversations.

Download our booklet ‘Living with Advanced Cancer’

Download our booklet ‘Understanding Palliative Care’

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 are able to get a Medicare rebate for sessions with a psychologist. Ask your doctor if you are eligible. Cancer Council SA operates a free cancer counselling program. Call Cancer Council 13 11 20 for more information.

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.

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This information is reviewed by

This information was last reviewed February 2021 by the following expert content reviewers: Prof David Goldstein, Medical Oncologist, Prince of Wales Hospital, Sydney, NSW; Craig Lynch, Colorectal Surgeon, Sydney Adventist Hospital, Sydney; Caitriona Nienaber, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council WA; Wayne Reynolds, Consumer; Dr Stephen Thompson, Radiation Oncologist, Prince of Wales Hospital, Sydney, NSW.