Follow up for bowel cancer
This page tells you about follow up after treatment for bowel cancer. You can find the following information
Follow up for bowel cancer
After your treatment has finished, you will have regular check ups. These might include a physical examination, blood tests (including CEA measurement), a scan, or a colonoscopy. Your doctor will also ask how you are feeling, whether you have any side effects from treatment or any new symptoms. You can ask them any questions you have. It may help to write down your questions before the appointment.
Your check ups will carry on for several years. At first they will be every few months. But if all is well, they will gradually become less and less frequent. If you are worried, or notice any new symptoms between appointments, let your doctor or specialist nurse know. You don't have to wait until the next appointment.
Feeling anxious about your appointments
Many people find their check ups quite worrying. You may find it helpful to tell someone close to you how you are feeling. Or you may want to talk about your concerns with a counsellor.
If you would like more information about anything to do with follow up appointments, you can contact our information nurses, or one of the bowel cancer organisations.
You can view and print the quick guides for all the pages in the treating bowel cancer section.
After your treatment has finished, you will have regular check ups. These might include
- A physical examination by your doctor
- Blood tests, including CEA measurement
- Scans such as CT scan, liver ultrasound scan or colonoscopy
You will not have all these tests at every visit to your specialist. But you will probably be examined and have a blood test at each appointment. Your doctor will also ask how you are feeling, whether you have any side effects from treatment or new symptoms, or if you are worried about anything. How often you have scans will depend on your individual case and local hospital guidelines.
You will have regular check ups for several years. At first they will be every few months. But if you are well they will gradually become less and less frequent. If you are worried, or notice any new symptoms between appointments, let your doctor or specialist nurse know as soon as possible. You don't have to wait until your next appointment.
A research review in 2007 found that having regular check ups improves survival for people who have had surgery for bowel cancer. So it is important to go regularly. You can read this review on follow up for bowel cancer in the Cochrane Library. It was written for researchers and specialists so is not in plain English.
Specialists use several different follow up programmes and we don’t know which is best yet. The FACS trial (Follow up After Colorectal (bowel) Surgery) looked at the best way to do follow up after surgery. This trial is closed and we are waiting for results.
Many people find their check ups quite worrying. If you are feeling well and getting on with life, a hospital appointment can bring back all the worry about having cancer. You may find it helpful to tell someone close to you how you are feeling. Or you may want to talk about your concerns with a counsellor. Ask your doctor or nurse if there are counsellors at your hospital.
It is important that you should feel able to ask questions when you see your doctor. Try making a list before your appointment, because people often forget what they want to ask. Remember that any question is worth asking, even if it is one you have asked before.
In this video Paul shares his story of life after bowel cancer, going to appointments and how he coped.
View a transcript of the video showing Paul's story. The transcript opens in a new window.
If you have had surgery, you may have been introduced to a specialist nurse who works with the cancer team. Many bowel surgery units have specialist nurses. They also usually have a specialist stoma nurse who will visit you if you have had a colostomy. The colorectal surgery nurse specialist will give you a contact phone number. You can call them if you are worried or need advice after you get home. Some specialist colorectal nurses visit people in their homes, but not all are able to do this.
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Question about cancer? Contact our information nurse team