Follow-up after treatment for cancer of unknown primary

Last medical review:

Follow-up care lets your healthcare team keep track of your health for a period of time after treatment ends. This important part of cancer care is often shared among the cancer specialists and your family doctor. They will help you recover from treatment side effects and monitor you for any signs that the cancer has come back (recurred). Talk to your healthcare team about how you feel and about why follow-up matters. Your healthcare team is there to help.

Because cancer of unknown primary (CUP) is an advanced cancer when it is diagnosed, you may be referred to a palliative care team. Palliative care provides physical, emotional, social and spiritual support for people with cancer and their families. Palliative care is given to relieve symptoms, control the cancer, if possible, and improve your quality of life.

Find out more about supportive care for cancer of unknown primary, including living with advanced cancer.

Schedule for follow-up visits

CUP includes different types of cancer that are treated differently, so there isn’t a standard schedule for follow-up visits. How often follow-up is done depends on how the CUP responded to treatment, how likely it is to spread to other parts of the body and how likely it is to come back.

People with certain types of CUP may need to see their healthcare team more often than people with other types of CUP. People receiving palliative care are followed as often as needed.

During follow-up visits

During a follow-up visit, your healthcare team will usually ask questions about the side effects of treatment and how you’re coping. They may also ask about pain and how well your pain medicines are working.

Your doctor may do a physical exam, including:

  • checking your surgical scar
  • feeling the lymph nodes

There are no standard tests used to follow-up with CUP. Your healthcare team may order different tests depending on your symptoms or if they are getting worse.

If a recurrence is found, your healthcare team will assess you to determine the best treatment options.

Find out more about follow-up

The following are questions that you can ask the healthcare team about follow-up after treatment for cancer. Choose the questions that fit your situation and add questions of your own. You may find it helpful to take the list to the next appointment and to write down the answers.

  • What is the schedule for follow-up visits?

  • How often is follow-up scheduled with the cancer specialist?

  • Who is responsible for follow-up visits?

  • What will happen at a follow-up visit?

  • What tests are done on a regular basis? How often are they done?

  • Are there any symptoms that should be reported right away? Who do I call?

  • Who can help me cope with long-term side effects of treatment?

Expert review and references

  • Tien Le , MD, FRCSC, DABOG
  • Fizazi K, Greco FA, Pavlidis N, Daugaard G, Oien K, Pentheroudakis G . Cancers of unknown primary site: ESMO clinical practice guidelines for diagnosis, treatment and follow-up . Annals of Oncology . 2015 : 26(Supplement 5):v133–v138 .
  • National Comprehensive Cancer Network . NCCN Clinical Practice Guidelines in Oncology: Occult Primary (Cancer of Unknown Primary) Version 1.2023 . 2022 .

Medical disclaimer

The information that the Canadian Cancer Society provides does not replace your relationship with your doctor. The information is for your general use, so be sure to talk to a qualified healthcare professional before making medical decisions or if you have questions about your health.

We do our best to make sure that the information we provide is accurate and reliable but cannot guarantee that it is error-free or complete.

The Canadian Cancer Society is not responsible for the quality of the information or services provided by other organizations and mentioned on, nor do we endorse any service, product, treatment or therapy.

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