Life after treatment for bowel cancer
For most people, the cancer experience doesn’t end on the last day of treatment. Life after cancer treatment can present its own challenges. You may have mixed feelings when treatment ends, and worry that every ache and pain means the cancer is coming back.
Some people say that they feel pressure to return to “normal life”. It is important to allow yourself time to adjust to the physical and emotional changes, and establish a new daily routine at your own pace. Your family and friends may also need time to adjust.
Cancer Council 13 11 20 can help you connect with other people who have had bowel cancer, and provide you with information about the emotional and practical aspects of living well after cancer.
For more on this, see Living well after cancer.
Learn more about:
After treatment ends, you will have regular check-ups to monitor your health, manage any long-term side effects and check that the cancer hasn’t come back or spread. Check-ups have been found to improve survival after surgery for bowel cancer. You will usually have a physical examination and you may have blood tests (including checking CEA levels), scans and colonoscopies.
How often you need to see your doctor will depend on the level of monitoring needed for the type and stage of the cancer. Your doctor may want to see you two to four times a year for the first year, twice a year for the next few years, and then yearly for a few years. Check-ups will become less frequent if you have no further problems. Between follow-up appointments, let your doctor know immediately of any symptoms or health problems.
If you have continued feelings of sadness, have trouble getting up in the morning or have lost motivation to do things that previously gave you pleasure, you may be experiencing depression. This is quite common among people who have had cancer.
Talk to your GP, because counselling or medication – even for a short time – may help. Some people can get a Medicare rebate for sessions with a psychologist. Cancer Council may also run a counselling program in your area.
Cancer can cause physical and emotional strain, so it’s important to look after your wellbeing. Cancer Council has free booklets and programs to help you during and after treatment.
Call 13 11 20 to find out more, or see Managing cancer side effects, Exercise after a cancer diagnosis, Complementary therapies, Emotions and cancer, Nutrition and cancer, Sexuality, intimacy and cancer, Fertility and cancer, and Living well after cancer.
Alternative therapies are therapies used instead of conventional medical treatments. These are unlikely to be scientifically tested, may prevent successful treatment of the cancer and can be harmful. Cancer Council does not recommend the use of alternative therapies as a cancer treatment.
If bowel cancer returns
For some people, bowel cancer does come back after treatment, which is known as a recurrence. It is important to have regular check-ups so that if cancer does come back, it can be found early.
If the recurrence is confined to the bowel and nearby lymph nodes, it may be possible to remove it with surgery. Removing the tumour can help relieve symptoms and, in some cases, may stop the cancer.
If bowel cancer has spread beyond the bowel (advanced or metastatic bowel cancer), you may be offered treatment, such as surgery, chemotherapy, targeted therapy or radiation therapy, to remove the cancer or help control its growth. If your bowel becomes blocked, you will need urgent treatment.
Podcast for people affected by cancer
A/Prof David A Clark, Colorectal Surgeon, Royal Brisbane and Women’s Hospital, and The University of Queensland, QLD, and The University of Sydney, NSW; A/Prof Siddhartha Baxi, Radiation Oncologist and Medical Director, GenesisCare Gold Coast, QLD; Dr Hooi Ee, Specialist Gastroenterologist and Head, Department of Gastroenterology, Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital, WA; Annie Harvey, Consumer; A/Prof Louise Nott, Medical Oncologist, Icon Cancer Centre, Hobart, TAS; Caley Schnaid, Accredited Practising Dietitian, GenesisCare, St Leonards and Frenchs Forest, NSW; Chris Sibthorpe, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council Queensland; Dr Alina Stoita, Gastroenterologist and Hepatologist, St Vincent’s Hospital Sydney, NSW; Catherine Trevaskis, Gastrointestinal Cancer Specialist Nurse, Canberra Hospital, ACT; Richard Vallance, Consumer.
View the Cancer Council NSW editorial policy.
Life after cancer treatment
Webinars, exercise and nutrition, sexuality programs, and back-to-work support
Need legal and financial assistance?
Pro bono services, financial and legal assistance, and no interest loans
Coping with cancer?
Talk with a health professional or someone who has been there, or find a support group or forum
Nutrition after cancer treatment
Healthy eating habits to help you maintain good nutrition
Exercise and cancer
Exercise helps most people during cancer treatment. Find out which exercises are best for you, and watch our series of exercise videos
Relaxation and meditation
Learn how relaxation and mediation can help you both during and after cancer treatment, or listen to our relaxation and meditation audio tracks