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Brain and spinal tumours

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Follow-up after treatment for brain and spinal cord cancer

Brain and spinal cord cancer behaves differently in each person, and a standard follow-up schedule would not work for everyone. People with brain and spinal cord cancer should talk to their doctor about a follow-up plan that suits their individual situation. Follow-up care is often shared among the cancer specialists (oncologists), surgeon and family doctor.

After treatment has ended, new symptoms and symptoms that don’t go away should be reported to the doctor without waiting for the next scheduled appointment. These may include:

  • headache
  • seizures
  • any changes to neurological functioning, including sensation, motor skills or personality

The chance of brain and spinal cord cancer recurring is greatest within the first several years after therapy, so close follow-up is needed during this time. However, because a tumour can recur many years after initial treatment, long-term follow-up care is very important.

Schedule

Follow-up after brain and spinal cord cancer treatment varies. Follow-up visits are usually scheduled:

  • 4–6 weeks after initial treatment
  • every 3–6 months for a number of years
  • less often as time goes by
    • The time between examinations will become longer, but they will continue indefinitely.

Procedures

During a follow-up visit, the doctor usually asks questions about the side effects of treatment and how the person is coping. The doctor may do a complete physical examination, including a neurological exam to assess physical and mental alertness (neurological status). If a shunt is in place, the doctor will check to make sure it is working well.

Tests may be ordered as part of follow-up or if the doctor suspects the cancer has come back (has recurred).

  • imaging tests
    • MRI
    • CT scan
  • blood tests
    • to check hormone levels to see if there are any abnormalities from treatment
    • to check the level of anticonvulsants

If a recurrence is found during follow-up, the oncology team will assess the person with cancer to determine the best treatment options.

See a list of questions to ask your doctor about follow-up after treatment.

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