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
- 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.
What’s the lifetime risk of getting cancer?
The latest Canadian Cancer Statistics report shows about half of Canadians are expected to be diagnosed with cancer in their lifetime.