to keep an eye on the physical and psychological state of the patient
- to manage any medium or long-term secondary effects of certain treatments
- to detect any recurrence as soon as possible
- to identify any new cancer.
Recurrence means that cancer cells reappear after a period of remission that can vary from a few months to several years. It can also happen that the same patient develops different cancers several years apart. In all these cases, the earlier a recurrence or cancerous disease is detected, the faster a new therapeutic strategy can be offered.
At the start, patients in remission are closely monitored. For at least a year, they are seen every 2 to 4 months by their different doctors, most often alternately (oncologist, radiotherapist and/or surgeon). During this period, depending on the type of cancer, different examinations may be carried out: blood analysis, CT scan, endoscopy, MRI, PET scan, etc. If necessary, each patient’s case can be discussed again by the Multidisciplinary Oncology Team.
Follow-up cancer care is not simply medical: it can also involve a psychologist, among other health professionals. Problems and secondary effects can appear months or even years after the disease. Which is why the Institut Jules Bordet offers a range of support (cancer psychologists, pain clinic, physiotherapists, speech therapists, dieticians, etc), available to patients during and after their treatment.
If there is no recurrence of cancer, follow-up appointments become less frequent. Their frequency and the examinations carried out depend on the level of risk of recurrence and the type of cancer affecting the patient. In the majority of cases, during the early years, patients are seen by their referring doctor(s) every 3 to 6 months. Then, monitoring is done on an annual basis.
In some cases, follow-up care can be given partly or entirely outside the Institut Jules Bordet by an external specialist doctor (dermatologist, gynaecologist, etc) or by the patient’s GP.
After several years of remission, the patient is considered to be cured of their cancer. However, in most cases, an annual follow-up is recommended throughout their life and not only to detect a relapse or identify a possible new cancer. Certain treatments in fact require long-term medical supervision. For example:
- Hormone therapy, prescribed for certain breast and prostate cancers, is a long-term treatment. Its possible secondary effects (hot flushes, weight gain, etc) can be treated.
- The doses of thyroxin, a thyroid hormone that has to be taken for life following thyroid ablation, sometimes require adjustment (in the event of pregnancy, for example).
- Some cancer treatments (chemotherapy, immunotherapy, radiotherapy, etc) can cause specific acute or chronic toxicities, sometimes delayed, which must be treated by a specialist.