An overview of the features of life after successful treatment for cancer
- Age, gender, genetics, and lifestyle as risk factors depend on the type
Cure rates may be higher than 9 in 10 for some types of cancers and lower than 1 in 10 for others. The chances of a cure depend on various factors, including the age and general health of the affected person, the type of cancer and the stage it has reached, and the effectiveness of treatment (see Cancer and its management). Full remission occurs when all the symptoms disappear and there is no evidence of any cancerous cells in the body. If cancer does not recur for 5 years, there is a good chance that it has been cured. A relapse may be indicated by the return of symptoms or by evidence of cancer in follow-up tests.
Sometimes, treatment may damage the immune system (see Acquired immunodeficiency). Radiotherapy and chemotherapy may increase the risk of a second type of cancer developing in previously normal tissue. For example, chemotherapy may increase the risk that leukaemia or lymphoma will develop.
Are there complications?
Cancer treatment often causes physical changes that may be psychologically difficult to deal with. For example, a breast may have been removed because of breast cancer. Mental abilities may also be affected, especially after treatment for brain and spinal cord tumours in children.
Emotional problems after treatment may understandably include a fear that the cancer is going to recur. You may also become depressed as a reaction to the physical changes caused by the treatment (see Depression).
You may encounter discrimination at work. Some employers may be reluctant to employ or promote you if you have been treated for cancer. They may be unwilling to invest money in you and assume that you are going to die soon or that you will claim large amounts of money from pension and health insurance plans. Employers may also have an unfounded belief that survivors of cancer are unproductive workers and may fear that you will need a long time off work. However, there are organizations that can offer emotional support and legal advice if you face discrimination.
What might the doctor do?
You will be advised to visit the doctor for follow-up evaluations once the cancer has gone into remission. Follow-up involves routine checkups at intervals after treatment. These checkups may involve having imaging tests, such as X-rays or CT scanning, endoscopy, or blood tests. Some cancers can be successfully treated if a recurrence is detected early enough.
What can I do?
You should attend any recommended follow-up appointments and try not to feel too anxious or fearful about these checkups. They will be scheduled less frequently over time and are often required only annually after 5 years. Follow-up is carried out to maximize the chances of diagnosing and successfully treating any recurrence of cancer early.
Once your cancer has been cured, you may feel the need to improve the quality of your life by making a change in your priorities. Many cancer survivors decide to leave or change their jobs in order to fulfil lifelong ambitions or to spend more time with their families. You and your family may also wish to join a self-help organization, usually run by cancer survivors, which can offer support and advice to other survivors and their families.
If you develop cancer before the age of 50, it may have a genetic cause. If this genetic cause has been inherited then other family members may also be at increased risk of developing the same cancer. For example, some cases of colorectal cancer, breast cancer, cancer of the ovary, and prostate cancer have an inherited genetic cause.
If your family has a higher than normal incidence of a particular type of cancer, it is important for relatives at risk to be regularly screened for that cancer (see Screening).
From the 2010 revision of the Complete Home Medical Guide © Dorling Kindersley Limited.
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