Follow-up after treatment for cervical cancer
Follow-up after treatment is an important part of cancer care. Follow-up for cervical cancer is often shared among the cancer specialists (gynecologist, radiation oncologist, medical oncologist and surgical oncologist) and your family doctor. Your healthcare team will work with you to decide on follow-up care to meet your needs.
Don’t wait until your next scheduled appointment to report any new symptoms and symptoms that don’t go away. Tell your healthcare team if you have:
- pain in the pelvis, hips, back or legs
- bleeding or discharge from the vagina
- changes in bowel habits or bladder function
- unexplained weight loss
- a cough that doesn’t go away
The chance of cervical cancer recurring is greatest within 2–3 years, so close follow-up is needed during this time. Smoking is a risk factor for cervical cancer, so women who have cervical cancer are strongly encouraged to stop smoking.
Schedule for follow-up visits
Follow-up visits after cervical cancer are usually scheduled:
- every 3–4 months for the first 2 years after initial treatment
- every 6–12 months for the next 3 years (years 3–5)
- once a year after 5 years
During follow-up visits
During a follow-up visit, your healthcare team will usually ask questions about the side effects of treatment and how you’re coping.
Your doctor may do a physical exam, including:
- pelvic exam
- digital rectal exam (DRE)
- feeling the lymph nodes
- Pap test
Regular Pap tests are done after treatment for cervical cancer, even after a woman has a hysterectomy. Samples are taken from remaining portions of the cervix or from the vagina. Pap tests may not be done for the first year after a hysterectomy or treatment with radiation therapy because cell and tissue changes from these treatments can make the results hard to understand.
Other tests are often part of follow-up care. You may have one or more of the following tests to check how you respond to treatment or to investigate new symptoms:
- complete blood count (CBC)
- blood chemistry tests
- colposcopy (a procedure that uses a lighted magnifying instrument to examine the vulva, vagina and cervix)
- CT and MRI scan of the pelvis and abdomen
- chest x-ray
- ultrasound of the liver
- bone scan
- PET scan
If a recurrence is found, your healthcare team will assess you to determine the best treatment options.
Find out more about these tests and procedures.
Questions to ask about follow-up
To make the decisions that are right for you, ask your healthcare team questions about follow-up.
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Support from someone who has ‘been there’
The Canadian Cancer Society’s peer support program is a telephone support service that matches cancer patients and their caregivers with specially trained volunteers.