If you’ve ever had cancer, you’re likely to remember the day you received your diagnosis and the last day of treatment as easily as you remember your own birthday.
When you reach your five-year anniversary, the day can be particularly poignant, because it is often considered a benchmark at which time the chances of cancer returning drops significantly.
The good news is that there are more people celebrating five-year anniversaries than ever before as a result of earlier detection and more effective treatment.
However, anyone who has had cancer faces the possibility of cancer recurrence and has a slightly increased risk of developing another cancer compared to those who have never been diagnosed.
“Although the risk of recurrence decreases each year, it’s important to keep in mind that it’s different for every disease and for every patient,” said Bowel Care Nurse Fiona Radford.
Risk of recurrence or secondary cancer depends on a variety of factors, including the type of cancer and age at diagnosis.
“Exactly why some people develop cancer and others don’t, and why it recurs or spreads in some individuals and not others, is unclear.
“That’s why it's so important to do what you can when you can,” Fiona said.
“Taking active steps like engaging in regular physical activity, avoiding tobacco, limiting consumption of alcohol and red meat, and maintaining a healthy weight are all things which directly benefit overall health and can help reduce the chance of cancer coming back or new cancer developing.”
“But there’s no guarantee you will live cancer-free, even if you do ‘everything right.’”
If you are living beyond bowel cancer, one of the most important things you can do is to follow the surveillance schedule set up by your oncology team.
“Keeping appointments – getting the scans and the lab work done – is essential,” said Fiona.
“If you’re feeling better, going to appointments may seem like an unpleasant hassle and unwelcome reminder of your bowel cancer, but continued follow-up and surveillance are critical for early detection of recurrent or new primary bowel cancer.
“Reaching that five-year mark is a great thing, but it’s essential to stay vigilant and continue with the recommended follow-up and surveillance.”
You may also be interested in developing a Survivorship Care Plan (SCP).
Survivorship Care Plans are formal, written documents that provide details about your bowel cancer diagnosis and treatment, potential late and long-term effects arising from cancer and its treatment, recommended follow-up, and strategies to remain well.
The Institute of Medicine (IOM) recommends that each person who completes primary treatment for cancer receive a comprehensive care summary and follow-up plan.
A Survivorship Care Plan is one way to try to ensure a consistent, coordinated management plan and flow of information, to help ensure good outcomes as you live beyond bowel cancer.
The plan includes information about:
- the cancer for which you received treatment, and the type of treatments you received
- short-term and long-term effects of treatment: what to be alert for and how frequently to visit the doctor for check-ups and screening (incl. information about psychosocial effects)
- how your follow-up care will be coordinated between the oncology specialist, GP, nurse specialists, etc., and who to contact in between follow-up appointments and when you should have them
- lifestyle changes needed to reduce the risk and severity of treatment side effects, prevent comorbid conditions and promote better health (incl. information about diet, smoking, alcohol, obesity and overweight, exercise and sun protection)
- ways to manage physical and mental health
- useful community resources regarding employment and insurance issues
The American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) has developed a Survivorship Care Plan template which has been updated by Bowel Cancer Australia for patients within Australia.
It contains important information about the given treatment, the need for future check-ups and cancer tests, the potential long-term late effects of the treatment you received, and ideas for improving your health.
Please note it is not intended to provide a complete medical record as no single survivorship care plan is appropriate for all patients due to the complexity of cancer care.
Talk to your doctor for more information about your individual treatment and follow-up care.
To speak with a Bowel Care Nurse call 1800 555 494 Monday – Friday during business hours.
For more information, including how to manage worries about cancer coming back, download our Support, Care & Recovery booklet today.