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Life after cancer treatment

Taking good care of yourself is a critical part of life after cancer treatment. At Minneapolis Radiation Oncology, we’ll give you the tools and support you need to do this.

After your treatments are over, your MRO radiation oncologist may want to re-examine you to check the results, and the doctor who referred you for radiation therapy will schedule follow-up visits as needed. Follow-up care may also include more cancer treatment, rehabilitation, and/or counseling.

Who provides my care after therapy?

After your radiation treatments end, you will receive ongoing follow-up care from your referring doctor, which may be a surgeon, a medical oncologist, or your primary physician. You may also return to your radiation oncologist for regular visits. Your follow-up care will depend on the kind of cancer you have and on other treatments you had or may need.

What other care might be needed after radiation therapy?

Just as every patient is different, follow-up care varies. Your oncologist will prescribe and schedule your next steps. Do not hesitate to ask about the tests or treatments your oncologist orders. MRO will help you learn everything you can to take good care of yourself.

Here are some questions you may want to ask your doctor after your radiation therapy ends:

  • How often do I need to return for checkups?
  • Why do I need more X-rays, scans, or blood tests?
  • What will these tests tell us?
  • Will I need chemotherapy, surgery, or other treatments?
  • How will you know whether I am cured of cancer?
  • What are the chances that the cancer will come back?
  • How soon can I go back to my regular activities? Work? Sexual activity? Sports?
  • Do I need to take any special precautions?
  • Do I need a special diet?
  • How soon can I have reconstructive surgery?

What if pain is a problem?

If pain persists after radiation therapy ends, try using mild pain medicines. Do not use a heating pad or warm compress to relieve pain in any area treated with radiation.

If you have severe pain, ask your MRO radiation care team about prescription medications or other methods of relief. Be specific when describing your pain, so you can get the best treatment for it.

If you still cannot find relief from your pain, you may be referred to a doctor who is a pain specialist.

What can I do to help myself after radiation therapy ends?

After radiation therapy ends, you will still need to take special care of yourself. It is normal to need extra rest – this means your healthy tissues are rebuilding. Take naps as needed and try to get more sleep at night. Work back into your pre-treatment schedule of activities by reintroducing them a little at a time.

Skin problems may persist for several weeks after treatment ends. Continue to be gentle with your skin in the treatment area until all signs of irritation are gone. Do not try to scrub off the marks in your treatment area.

What about returning to work?

Many people continue to work during their radiation therapy. However, if you have taken time off, or have altered your work activities due to treatment, ask your oncologist when you should be able to return to work.

When you are ready to go back to work, you’ll want to learn about your rights concerning job and health insurance. If you have any questions about employment issues, contact the Cancer Information Service or the American Cancer Society. They can help you find local agencies that respond to problems cancer survivors sometimes face regarding employment and insurance rights.

When should I call the doctor?

After cancer treatment, you are likely to be more aware of your body and notice even slight changes in how you feel from day to day. Tell your MRO care team at once if you exhibit any of these problems:

  • A pain that does not go away, especially if it is always in the same place.
  • Lumps, bumps, or swelling.
  • Ongoing nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, or loss of appetite.
  • Unexplained weight loss.
  • A fever or cough that does not go away.
  • Unusual rashes, bruises, or bleeding.
  • Any other signs mentioned by your doctor or nurse.