How do I self-monitor for late effects of cancer treatment?

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Learn practical tips to help you self-monitor for late effects of cancer treatments and answers to some commonly asked questions.

Key points

  • Talk to your health-care team to understand your risks for late effects and continue to use a self-monitoring journal to record any changes you notice.
  • When you notice a change, record when it started, describe the change including details of what makes it better or worse, and how it is affecting the way you live, and contact your health-care team to let them know about the change.
  • Use the head-to-toe method to guide you through self-monitoring, just like when you were on treatment.
  • Just because you notice a change in your body, does not mean that you have a late effect of cancer treatment.

You now understand what late effects are, why it is important to attend appointments and the value of continuing to self-monitor. Now you are ready to give self-monitoring a try! This section contains practical tips to help you get started.

The challenge

Some changes can happen so slowly that they can be difficult to notice. For example, changes in your energy level or your ability to do physical activity can happen gradually over time. You might not even realize there has been a change or that it might be related to your previous cancer treatment. This is especially true as time passes and cancer slips from your daily thoughts.

The solution

1. Understand your risks for late effects. Talk to your cancer follow-up team about the late effects that can sometimes result from your treatment. Be sure to ask about and write down a list of any signs and symptoms you should watch out for.

Note: The National Children’s Cancer Society has developed an online late effects assessment tool where you can enter your treatment information and learn more about your risks for late effects. This is not a replacement for medical advice. If you have any questions, talk to your health-care team.

2. Keep a self-monitoring journal. Use a laptop, phone, notebook or app. You do not need to write in it every day, but it’s a good idea to write in it as often as possible. You can also write instructions from your doctor here. You can track any changes or symptoms (or lack of symptoms) that you notice. Remember to also keep track of changes you notice in your thoughts and emotions. This will help you see changes over time and remember things between appointments.

How do I describe any changes I notice?

When you recognize a change in your body, thoughts, emotions or lifestyle, ask yourself the following questions:

  • When did it start?
  • How would I describe it? Use as many words as possible.
  • What makes it better or worse?
  • How is it affecting the way I live my life?

Write the answers in your journal. Remember, if you notice a change or something is really bothering you, talk to your health-care provider.

What should I look for?

It helps to have a guide to direct your attention to the right places when you are practicing self-monitoring. Just like when you were on treatment, use the "head-to-toe" method. The chart below can help to guide you in monitoring for symptoms of some of the more common late effects.

If you experience any of these symptoms, tell your health-care provider.

Noticing change is important. Acting on what you notice is even more important.

If you notice a symptom that troubles you, call your health-care provider right away. New symptoms, or ones similar to those you had when you were first diagnosed with cancer, might make you feel worried. Often, new symptoms are not related to your cancer or its treatment, and seeing your health-care provider can be reassuring.

Now that you’ve completed your cancer treatment, it’s also important to concentrate on feeling good and moving forward.

If I notice these changes, does that mean I have late effects?

Some of the symptoms in the chart can have other causes besides late effects. For example, you may have a cough because you have a cold or an infection. Having one or more of these symptoms does not mean that you are developing late effects, but it does mean that you should tell your health-care provider, especially if it happens often or is interfering with your life.

I’m not sure if I’m ready for self-monitoring. What can I do?

Taking on the responsibility of self-monitoring is not something that happens right away. It can take time before you are comfortable recognizing changes and communicating them to your health-care team. With practice, you will feel more confident. The skills to self-monitor will help you maintain your health into the future.

Last updated: September 3rd 2019