Bladder Cancer

Follow-up care and support

After your bladder cancer treatment concludes, what comes next? Scheduling periodic follow-up visits is a vital step. At these visits, your care team will check your overall health, look for cancer recurrence or a new cancer, and help you manage any long-term concerns. They also may check for late effects, which are similar to side effects, but usually show up later than six months after your treatment ends.

Your doctor initially may want to see you every three to six months. Keeping these appointments is extremely important because people who have had bladder cancer can be at high risk for development of bladder cancer again.

If you still have all or part of your bladder, a typical follow-up visit may include a review of your recent medical history, a physical exam, cystoscopy, urine cytology, imaging tests, and blood tests to make sure the bladder is functioning well and to look for signs of cancer. Your doctor also may order urine tumor marker tests to detect specific substances that bladder cancer cells release.

If you’re experiencing symptoms such as blood in the urine or painful urination, a urine culture will be done to see if infection is present. An infection can cause the same symptoms as a bladder cancer recurrence.

If your bladder was removed and you have a urinary diversion, you likely will have the same types of tests (except the cystoscopy) to check for changes in kidney function and to look for signs of cancer. Your care team also will check your urinary diversion and help you with problems or concerns you may have with it.

If you develop any health problems between visits, contact your doctor.

Dealing with emotions

Like other cancer survivors, you may face emotional issues both during and after your treatment, including the uncertainty of whether your bladder cancer will return. You may find yourself re-evaluating your life and your relationships or thinking deeply about the end of life. You might be stressed by financial issues caused by your cancer.

No matter what the issue is, reach out for support in ways that work for you. Consider joining a cancer support group or share your concerns with some other group you’re comfortable with, such as a church group. Or open up to a relative, friend or counselor.

Talking with other bladder cancer survivors may be especially helpful because they are often coping with the same issues.

Taking care of you

Focus on taking good care of yourself so that you can enjoy life and be ready for the battle if you ever face cancer again. Eat well. Exercise regularly. Limit alcohol consumption to one drink a day if you’re a woman or two drinks a day if you’re a man. Make a good night’s sleep a priority. Although there is no clear evidence that any of these changes will reduce your risk for bladder cancer, they all have health benefits that go beyond cancer prevention.

If you smoke, make a determined effort to quit; bladder cancer is four to seven times more likely to develop in smokers than in nonsmokers. Bladder cancer survivors are also at increased risk of getting cancer of the kidney, ureter, pancreas, larynx, lung, vagina, and prostate, as well as acute myeloid leukemia; some of these are linked to smoking. Don’t be discouraged if your first attempt to quit fails – it often takes several tries to succeed.

Keep an eye out for clinical trials that are looking at possible ways to lower the risk of bladder cancer recurrence. Consider joining such a trial if your doctor suggests it.

Creating a survivorship plan

After your cancer treatment, it’s a good idea to develop a survivorship plan with your doctor’s assistance. It can serve as your roadmap as you move forward in life as a cancer survivor.

Your survivorship plan should include your medical history, contact information for your cancer care team, details of your cancer diagnosis and treatment, information on your risk for late effects and cancer recurrence and/or second cancers, your schedule of follow-up care visits, and information on healthy living (for example, a dietitian’s healthy eating advice for you as a bladder cancer survivor). Your survivorship plan also could include your estate plan, as well as a list of resources for future reference in case you need assistance.

Changing doctors

At some point, you may stop seeing your cancer team and return to your primary care physician, perhaps because it’s your preference or because your health insurance requires it. Or you may move and have to start over with a new doctor who doesn’t know anything about you or your medical history.

In either case, it’s important to share details of your cancer diagnosis and treatment. Your survivorship plan will have all of that information in one place, making it easy to provide this information to your new doctor.

Additional Resources

 

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