Finishing primary treatment for cancer is a big step. Once treatment is over, most people want to put cancer behind them and get back to their lives.
But this can be hard to do. Cancer changes your life in ways that affect both your current and future health. For example:
- You may have long-term effects from treatment, such as scarring, pain or organ damage (for example, heart damage from certain chemotherapy drugs).
- You could need emotional or social support as you put your life back together.
- You might need help with financial or employment issues.
- Once you've had cancer, you're at increased risk for having it again. This could be a return of the same cancer or a new type of cancer.
It may help to think of cancer as a chronic disease you can live with, like diabetes or arthritis. Having a plan for your ongoing care is important. Doctors often call this a survivorship plan.
What's in a survivorship plan?
Survivorship plans usually have two parts: a care summary and a follow-up care plan.
A care summary is a record of the details about your cancer. Take your care summary with you any time you see a new doctor. It has important information about your cancer history that can help a doctor decide how to treat you.
A care summary should include details about:
- Your cancer, such as the type, location, stage and grade
- Any tests you had and the results
- Any treatments you had, including the dates and dosages
- Who provided your treatment, including contact information for all the doctors and treatment centers
- The doctor who is coordinating your ongoing care
A follow-up care plan involves what you need to know and do to stay in the best health possible for the rest of your life. A good care plan will cover details of many aspects of your life, such as:
- A schedule for follow-up tests and exams you need
- Information about possible long-term effects of treatment
- A list of symptoms that might be signs of recurrence or another cancer
- Recommendations to improve your health and well-being, such as healthy eating, weight management, exercise and smoking cessation
- Information about the possible financial impact of cancer and resources that can help, such as legal and financial counseling
- Resources for genetic counseling and testing if you or your family would benefit from it
- Details about any medicine that might help prevent future cancer occurrences, such as tamoxifen for breast cancer
- Referrals to follow-up care providers, such as counselors or physical therapists
- Sources of support and information, such as local support groups, hotlines or national cancer organizations
Why is a survivorship plan important?
People with cancer may feel lost once they finish treatment. They may be unsure what follow-up care they need or who should provide it. Cancer advocates came up with the idea of survivorship plans to help people find the community resources they need.
A survivorship plan serves as a bridge between your past, present and future care. It focuses on preventing future cancers and improving your quality of life. Following your plan can help you get the care and support you need.Many treatment centers provide survivorship plans, but they are not yet standard. If your doctor doesn't give you a plan, don't be afraid to ask for one. Having this information is a key to staying in the best health possible.
Created on 12/17/2007
Updated on 06/04/2012
- National Cancer Policy Board. Delivering cancer survivorship care. In: Hewitt M, Greenfield S, Stovall E, eds. From Cancer Patient to Cancer Survivor: Lost in Transition. Washington D.C.: National Academies Press; 2005:187-231.
- National Cancer Institute. Getting follow-up medical care.
- Institute of Medicine. Cancer survivorship care planning.