There are an estimated 12 million cancer survivors in the United States who are living beyond their doctors’ predictions, thanks to a combination of cutting-edge chemotherapy drugs, excellent treatment, and improved screening measures. However, cancer survivors face unique challenges related to their treatment after cancer and need to stay alert to possible late side effects from chemotherapy and/or radiation. It’s important to talk to your doctor about proper screening for late side effects of cancer treatment for the rest of your life. Here is a list of possible tests that you might need depending on the type of treatment you received for your cancer:
1. Regular echocardiograms. Patients who received radiation to the chest wall and/or received high doses of chemotherapy, especially with a class of drugs called anthracyclines (such as doxorubicin), should have yearly echocardiograms to check for any heart damage related to treatment.
2. Regular mammograms. If you are a survivor of childhood cancer and received high doses of radiation to the chest wall, you may need to start mammograms at an earlier age. Secondary cancers related to primary treatment are always a possibility, especially with radiation to the chest wall. Breast cancer is one of the possible secondary cancers that can develop. Discuss with your primary care physician or oncologist about the possibility of screening mammograms beginning at an earlier age. If you are a survivor of breast cancer, screening mammograms should be number one on your priority list every year.
3. Thyroid examinations. If you have received radiation to the head, neck or throat, you should be screened for thyroid-related conditions.
4. Lung function tests. If you have received radiation to the chest wall or received chemotherapy, including the drug bleomycin, you should have regular lung function tests. Although improved radiation techniques lessen the likelihood of scatter radiation to the lungs, it doesn’t completely eliminate all risk. Testing involves how much air your lungs can hold and how quickly air moves in and out of your lungs.
5. Blood and imaging tests. Computed tomography (CT scans) and blood tests (CEA titer) are useful in determining a possible secondary cancer. Often with these types of tests there can be false positives, so be sure to discuss with your family physician or oncologist the need and frequency of these tests.
Cancer survivors need to be their own advocates when it comes to determining a treatment plan for possible late side effects. A careful review of the type of cancer you had in the past and the treatment you received will help you and your healthcare team to come up with the best possible survival treatment plan for the future. The most important part of being a cancer survivor is maintaining follow-up care, so you can continue to enjoy an active, prosperous, and healthy lifestyle.