Colorectal cancer

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Follow-up after treatment for colorectal cancer

Follow-up after treatment is an important part of cancer care. Follow-up for colorectal cancer is often shared among the cancer specialists (oncologists), the surgeon 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 abdomen or pelvis
  • dry cough
  • fatigue
  • nausea
  • unexplained weight loss
  • changes to bowel movements

The chance that colorectal cancer will come back (recur) is greatest within 5 years, so you will need close follow-up during this time.

Schedule for follow-up visits

Follow-up visits for colorectal cancer are usually scheduled every 3 to 6 months for the first 3 years and then every 6 months for the next 2 years. People treated for early stage cancer may be seen less often.

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:

  • feeling lymph nodes in the chest, abdomen and pelvis
  • listening to the lungs
  • feeling the abdomen for an enlarged liver
  • a digital rectal exam (DRE)

Tests are often part of follow-up care. You may have:

  • a carcinoembryonic antigen (CEA) blood test every 3 to 6 months for about 3 years and then every 6 months for the next 2 years
  • a colonoscopy within a year after surgery and then every 3 to 5 years
  • a periodic CT scan of the chest and abdomen to check for cancer in the lymph nodes, lungs and liver every year for 3 years after surgery

If the cancer has come back, you and your healthcare team will discuss a plan for your treatment and care.

Questions to ask about follow-up

To make the decisions that are right for you, ask your healthcare team questions about follow-up.