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Living Beyond Cancer

Living Beyond Cancer

Cancer is a disease of survivors, and the survival rate increases each year.

The increase in survival rates is largely thought to be due to the following four developments:

  • Improved identification of cancers that can sometimes be found early through screening, such as mammography for breast cancer, the prostate specific antigen (PSA) test for prostate cancer, the Pap test for cervical cancer, and colonoscopy for colorectal cancer
  • Improvements in treatment
  • More effective treatment of side effects, making it possible to give patients the planned doses of cancer drugs
  • The development of new treatments, such as targeted therapies

Surviving cancer: What to expect

At the end of active treatment, many survivors often have mixed emotions, including relief that their treatment is over, as well as anxiety about the future. After treatment, the “safety net” of regular, frequent contact with the health care team ends. Some survivors may miss this source of support, especially because anxieties may surface at this time. Others may have physical problems, psychological problems, sexual problems, and fertility concerns. Many survivors feel guilty about surviving, having lost friends or loved ones to the disease. Some survivors are uncertain about their future, while others experience discrimination at work or find that their social network feels inadequate. Find out more about coping with such concerns. Learn more about the next steps to take in survivorship.

Fear of recurrence

Fear of recurrence (cancer that comes back after treatment) is common among most cancer survivors. It may lead a person to worry over common physical problems, such as a headaches, coughs, and joint stiffness. It is hard to know what is “normal,” and what needs to be reported to the doctor. Discussing the actual risk of recurrence with your doctor and the symptoms to report can often lower your anxiety. Maintaining a regular schedule of follow-up visits can also provide a sense of control. Although many cancer survivors describe feeling scared and nervous about routine follow-up visits and tests, these feelings may ease with time.


When active treatment is over, some survivors need different types of support than they had before. Some friends may become closer, while others distance themselves. Families can become overprotective or may have exhausted their ability to be supportive. Relationship problems that may have been ignored before cancer can surface. The entire family is changed by the cancer experience in ways they may not be aware of. Recognizing and working through these changes are needed to help you get the support you need, and some people find that counseling helps. Open and ongoing communication helps with adapting to life and shifting relationships after cancer. Learn more about relationships and cancer.

Getting back to “normal”

Returning to a regular work schedule is a sign of getting back to a normal routine and lifestyle. Many people with cancer who took time off for treatment return to work afterwards, while many others may have worked throughout treatment, and others may not be able to return to work because of the effects of the cancer or its treatment. Most people need their job and the health insurance it provides.

Although many survivors can be as productive as they were before treatment, some find they are treated differently or unfairly. Learn more about dealing with discrimination. During and after treatment, it may be helpful to anticipate questions from coworkers, and decide how to answer these questions in advance. Coworkers may want to help but not know how. It may be up to you to start the conversation and set the limits. When and how you choose to discuss a diagnosis is a personal decision. Find out more about sharing your story.

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