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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. People often feel safer when they are closely monitored by the treatment team and may feel a bit lost when they don’t see them as often.

Some people say that they feel pressure to return to “normal life”, but they are still coming to terms with the diagnosis and treatment and dealing with side  effects. You may feel a range of emotions for some time. It is important to allow yourself time to adjust to the physical and emotional changes, establish a new daily routine at your own pace, and seek support if you need it. Your family and friends may also take 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.

Worrying about cancer coming back

Many people feel anxious and frightened about the cancer coming back (recurrence), especially in the first year after treatment finishes. For some people, this worry may affect their ability to enjoy life and make plans for the future.

People often say that with time their fears lessen, but the worry tends to return at particular times, such as:

  • before any follow-up appointments, tests and scans
  • special occasions (e.g. birthdays, holidays)
  • anniversaries of their diagnosis, surgery or end of treatment
  • when they read or hear of someone else’s experience with cancer.

Ways to manage the fear of recurrence

  • Talk to a medical professional about your risk of recurrence.
  • Focus on what you can control – for instance, being involved in your follow-up appointments and making changes to your lifestyle.
  • Recognise the signs of stress, such as a racing heartbeat or sleeplessness, and manage these in a healthy way. For example, you could try meditation, relaxation or exercise.
  • Join a support group to discuss your concerns with other people who have had cancer. Ask your treatment centre or call Cancer Council 13 11 20 to find out about face-to-face, telephone and online support groups.
  • Speak to a counsellor, psychologist or social worker if you are finding that the fear of recurrence is overwhelming. They may be able to help you balance your thinking or have a more helpful frame of mind.

Download our ‘Living Well After Cancer’ booklet

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This information is reviewed by

This information was last reviewed November 2021 by the following expert content reviewers: A/Prof Anne Burke, Co-Director, Psychology and Allied Health Lead, Cancer, Central Adelaide Local Health Network and The University of Adelaide, SA; Hannah Chen, Psychologist, Cancer Council Queensland; Hazel Everett, Clinical Nurse Consultant, Cancer Services, St John of God Subiaco Hospital, WA; Shona Gates, Senior Social Worker, North West Cancer Centre, TAS; Dr Jemma Gilchrist, Senior Clinical Psychologist, Mind My Health and Crown Princess Mary Cancer Centre, Westmead, NSW; Sandra Hodge, Consumer; Dr Michael Murphy, Psychiatrist and Clinician Researcher, Prince of Wales Hospital, NSW; Caitriona Nienaber, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council WA; Dr Alesha Thai, Medical Oncologist, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, VIC; Alan White, Consumer.

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