What about follow-up care?
Advances in early detection and treatment mean that many people with cancer are cured. Unfortunately, cancer is often diagnosed relatively late in the course of the disease in pets. This is because the clinical signs are often vague, and animals are good at hiding them when they are sick.
Veterinary surgeons can never be certain that the cancer will not come back once it has been treated. Undetected cancer cells can remain in the body after treatment and although the cancer seems to be completely removed or destroyed, it can return, this is called a recurrence.
Follow-up care means seeing a veterinary surgeon for regular medical check-ups. Your pet’s follow-up care will depend on the type of cancer and type of treatment as well as their overall health, as a result follow-up care is usually different for each patient who has been treated for cancer.
In general, patients usually return to the veterinary surgery every few weeks during the first few months after treatment and then less frequently after that. At these visits, your veterinary surgeon will look for side effects from treatment and check if the cancer has returned (recurrence) or spread (metastasis) to another part of the body.
To find out whether the cancer has spread or returned, your veterinary surgeon may do follow-up laboratory tests and/or imaging studies. If your pet has a recurrence, you and your veterinary surgeon will discuss new treatment goals and a new treatment plan.
During follow-up exams, your veterinary surgeon will also check for other problems, such as side effects from cancer therapy that can arise long after treatment. Check-ups help ensure that changes in health are noted and treated if needed. Between scheduled visits, you should contact the veterinary surgeon if any health problems occur.
It is important to be able to talk openly with your veterinary surgeon. Both of you need information to manage your pet’s care. Be sure to tell your veterinary surgeon if your pet is having trouble doing everyday activities and talk to them about any new signs to watch out for and what to do about them.
If you are concerned that the treatment your pet had puts it at a higher risk for having other health problems, be sure to discuss this with your veterinary surgeon as you develop your pet’s follow-up plan.
At each follow-up visit, it is a good idea to mention any health issues your pet is having, such as:
- New signs of illness or pain
- Physical problems that get in the way of daily life or that bother you, such as tiredness or weight gain or loss
- Other health problems your pet may have, such as heart disease, diabetes or arthritis
- Things you want to know more about, such as new research or side effects.
Just because your pet has certain signs, it doesn’t always mean the cancer has come back. Signs can be due to other problems that need to be addressed.
What about the future?
Just because your pet has certain signs, this doesn’t always mean the cancer has come back. They can be due to other problems that need to be addressed.
The term “cancer survivor” is used to include any animal who has been diagnosed with cancer, from the time of diagnosis through the rest of his or her life. Family members, friends and other pets are also part of the survivorship experience. While the word may seem strange and you may feel that it does not apply to your pet, the words ‘survivor’ and ‘survival’ can help many people think about how they can support their pet living with cancer and even about life beyond the cancer.
While cancer is a major event for all whose pets are diagnosed, it brings with it the chance for growth – an opportunity to deepen relationships among family members and the pet. As hard as treatment can be, many owners of cancer survivors say that every additional day they had to spend with their pet was worth it. Many say they have drawn from their experience to help other pet owners or to become advocates to improve cancer research, treatment and care.
The end of cancer treatment is often a time to celebrate. You may feel relieved to be finished with the demands of treatment and visits to the vet but, at the same time, you may be worried. It is common to be concerned about whether the cancer will come back.
When treatment ends, you may expect life to return to the way it was before your pet was diagnosed with cancer. But it can take time to recover. Your pet may have permanent scars or may no longer be able to do some things. People who have gone through cancer treatment describe the first few months as a time of change.
It’s not so much ‘getting back to normal’ as it is finding out what’s normal for your pet now. You can also expect things to keep changing as your pet’s recovers. The new ‘normal’ may include making changes in the way your pet eats and the things they can do.
All cancer survivors should have follow-up care. Knowing what to expect after cancer treatment can help you and your family make plans, lifestyle changes, and important decisions.
Some questions you may have after treatment include the following:
- Should I tell the veterinary surgeon about signs that worry me?
- Which veterinary surgeons should I see after treatment?
- How often should I see my veterinary surgeon?
- What tests do I need?
- What can be done to relieve pain, fatigue, or other problems after treatment?
- How long will it take for me to recover and feel more like myself?
- Is there anything I can or should be doing to keep cancer from coming back?