Survivorship Care Plan

After treatment for blood cancer is completed, the focus shifts to survivorship, follow-up care, and the emotional challenges of living with the fear of recurrence. While the goal of treatment is generally complete remission of the disease, some people will have refractory blood cancer or chronic disease that does not achieve complete remission, and continued treatment will be necessary to manage their condition.

Survivorship

Survivorship from cancer is defined as the time period from diagnosis throughout the rest of a person’s life. A cancer diagnosis can have a significant impact on a person’s life, as well as impacting their family members and close friends.

Many cancer survivors have to face challenging issues, financially, emotionally, and physically. Cancer treatment can be expensive, even for those with insurance, and many people find that the out-of-pocket costs can be significant or even devastating. Emotionally, many survivors experience the fear of recurrence, grief at what they have lost, and even survivor’s guilt when they think of others they’ve known who have not survived. Cancer survivors often seek to understand the meaning of their experience and wonder how to move forward post-treatment. Physically, some cancer survivors continue to experience lasting physical effects from treatment, such as fatigue. The challenges facing survivors can be significant; however, there are services that can help. Support is available through counseling, support groups, or online communities.1

Follow-up care

Treatment for blood cancer may last months or years, and once treatment is complete, the person will need to continue to see their doctor for follow-up tests. Follow-up tests will check to see how well the treatment worked, assess any lingering side effects from treatment, as well as look for signs that the cancer has returned. The frequency of follow-up visits will be determined by your doctor. They may occur every few months for several years after treatment is finished.2,3

The National Comprehensive Cancer Network has developed guidelines for follow-up testing for specific blood cancer types. While the exact follow-up care will be determined by a person’s doctor for the unique needs of the patient, follow-up care may include:

As more time passes after treatment, follow-up appointments and testing often become less frequent.2

Taking care of yourself after treatment for blood cancer

Many survivors find that making healthy lifestyle choices can optimize their health and give them a sense of control after treatment is completed. Healthy lifestyle choices may include:

  • Making healthy dietary choices
  • Getting regular exercise or activity (consult with your doctor before starting a new exercise program)
  • Stopping smoking or tobacco use
  • Keeping up with all doctor visits and tests
  • Asking for help if you are feeling depressed or overwhelmed3

If blood cancer returns after treatment

For some people with blood cancer, the first treatment may not put their disease into remission. Additional treatment, such as other chemotherapy drugs or a stem cell transplant, may be tried, or clinical trials might be an option.2,5

For people who experience a period of remission followed by a return of blood cancer, called recurrence, additional treatment will depend on several factors, including the individual’s age and health, as well as how long the cancer was in remission. Treatment options may include additional chemotherapy, a stem cell transplant, or clinical trials.2,5,6

In some people, blood cancer keeps coming back or doesn’t respond to treatment. In these cases, additional chemotherapy may not be helpful. Clinical trials may be an option. If clinical trials or further treatment is not recommended, palliative care can be helpful. Palliative care focuses on quality of life and controlling the symptoms caused by the blood cancer, rather than trying to cure the disease.5,6

Written by: Emily Downward | Last reviewed: February 2018
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