Recommended Surveillance After Treatment

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Your medical oncologist doctor will request physical examinations, blood work, scans and colonoscopies based on your cancer type (colon or rectal cancer), your individual risk for recurrence and the time from diagnosis.

Here’s a general guide on what doctors will recommend for the frequency of follow up visits and testing but remember – each person is unique:

Recommended Surveillance after Curative Treatment for Colorectal Cancer

Examination type
Year 1
Year 2
Year 3
Year 4
Year 5
Physical examination and historyEvery 3-6 monthsEvery 3-6 monthsEvery 6 monthsEvery 6 monthsEvery 6 months
CEA (carcinoembryonic antigen)Every 3-6 monthsEvery 3-6 monthsEvery 6 monthsEvery 6 monthsEvery 6 months
Colonoscopy (colon and rectal cancer patients)Colonoscopy at 1 year (rectal cancer patients: may be done at 3-6 months if it was not done before surgery). If advanced adenoma found, repeat in one year; otherwise repeat in 3 years. If 3 year colonoscopy is clear, repeat every 5 years.
Sigmoidoscopy (for rectal cancer patients who received LAR)Every 6 months can be considered
CT of the abdomen and pelvis (colon cancer) and of the chest (rectal cancer)YesYesYesAs determined by your doctorAs determined by your doctor

Adapted from the National Comprehensive Cancer Network treatment guidelines for colon and rectal cancer. These recommendations are guidelines only.


Comprehensive Care Summary

Your primary care health care provider may be the doctor who knows the most about your complete medical history and your follow-up care. Your oncologist should give your primary care provider a copy of your comprehensive care summary for their records. Depending on the treatments you received, it may be even more important to have your blood pressure, cholesterol, and glucose levels monitored and to have evaluations for late effects of treatment. Because a history of cancer adds a slight risk for other cancers, be sure to follow recommended cancer screening for prostate, breast, and cervical cancer, as appropriate. You should also receive flu and pneumonia vaccines annually.


Questions to ask when leaving your oncology healthcare team:

It’s important to put together a written comprehensive care summary upon finishing treatment. Ask your doctor(s) to help, and request medical records if needed. Make sure to gather information like:

  • What tests were done to diagnose my colon or rectal cancer, including results and when and where they were done
  • What was my diagnosis?
  • What was the stage, location of tumors, and levels of markers such as CEA?
  • What family or personal medical history is important to my diagnosis, treatment, and follow-up?
  • What surgeries, chemotherapy, and radiotherapy did I receive, including dates, dosages and reactions?
  • What clinical trials was I part of?
  • What other services did I receive — nutrition, psychological support, home health care, genetic counseling?
  • What is the full contact information for the places I received treatment and key providers?
  • Who is the key person who will coordinate my follow-up care and how will I contact that
    person?

Questions for primary care doctor when treatment ends:

  • What follow-up care will I need?
  • What’s the schedule for tests and procedures and who will provide them?
  • What longer term side effects could I expect from treatment and when?
  • What are signs or symptoms of a possible recurrence or a new cancer?
  • What lifestyle changes can I make to help prevent recurrence?
  • What symptoms merit a call to the doctor?
  • Are there medicines or nutritional supplements that I should be taking?
  • Do I need referrals to other health services such as genetic counseling?

Keep track of your follow-up care. Download our Follow-Up Care Plan Worksheet. 

Content medically-reviewed by members of the Fight Colorectal Cancer Medical Advisory Board, February 2014

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