All Childhood Cancer Survivors Should Be Followed by a Doctor

August 2009

About 300,000 survivors of childhood cancer live in the United States today. Very few seek long term follow-up care after treatment. While follow up care is important for a cancer survivor, it is even more important for survivors of childhood cancer.

Children with cancer get treatment during the time they are developing both physically and mentally. Because of this, it is more likely they may have long term health effects. These effects may not show up until weeks, months or years after treatment and are called late effects.

Follow-up care can help spot any changes in health. While cancer treatments like radiation therapy or chemotherapy may save or extend lives, they can also raise the risk of a new cancer, called a second cancer, in some survivors.

Childhood cancer survivors may need to be tested early for certain cancers. For example, both women and men survivors who received radiation to the chest should be checked for breast cancer earlier than the suggested age 40 and up. Colorectal and prostate cancer screenings may need to be done earlier than normal for patients who received radiation in those areas. Your doctor will also check for any signs that the first cancer has come back.

Cancer treatment can also have long term effects on the body and the mind. How well:

  • Does their brain and organs work?
  • Is their growth and development?
  • Do they do in school?

These can be changed by how much and type of therapy received. Cancer survivors should also be watched for signs of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or other emotional or mental illnesses. Depression or anxiety may not start until later on.

Some cancer survivors aren’t able to see their cancer doctor for follow-up care. However, it is still important to seek follow-up care from a different cancer doctor or a family doctor. It may help to get copies of medical records or a treatment summary from the doctor(s) who treated your cancer.

A treatment summary lists the cancer diagnosis, the treatments received, and names and amounts of any drugs given. Other ideas include listing tests to be done in the future to look for return of cancer or a second cancer. Having this information can be helpful for survivors who travel or are treated by more than one doctor.