Follow-up after treatment for cervical cancer

Follow-up after treatment is an important part of cancer care. Follow-up for cervical cancer is often shared among the cancer specialists (gynecologist, radiation oncologist, medical oncologist and surgical oncologist) and your family doctor. Your healthcare team will work with you to decide on follow-up care to meet your needs.

Don’t wait until your next scheduled appointment to report any new symptoms and symptoms that don’t go away. Tell your healthcare team if you have:

  • pain in the pelvis, hips, back or legs
  • bleeding or discharge from the vagina
  • changes in bowel habits or bladder function
  • unexplained weight loss
  • a cough that doesn’t go away

The chance that cervical cancer will come back (recur) is greatest within 2 to 3 years, so you will need close follow-up during this time.

Schedule for follow-up visits

Follow-up visits for cervical cancer are usually scheduled:

  • every 3 to 4 months for the first 2 years after initial treatment
  • every 6 to 12 months for the next 3 years (years 3 to 5)
  • once a year after 5 years

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.

Your doctor may do a physical exam, including:

  • a pelvic exam
  • a digital rectal exam (DRE)
  • feeling the lymph nodes above the collarbones
  • a Pap test

Regular Pap tests are done after treatment for cervical cancer. Samples are taken from remaining portions of the cervix or from the vagina. Pap tests may not be done for the first year after surgery or radiation therapy because cell and tissue changes from these treatments can make the results hard to correctly understand.

Tests are often part of follow-up care. You may have:

  • blood tests including a complete blood count (CBC) and blood chemistry tests
  • a colposcopy, which uses a lighted magnifying instrument to examine the vulva, vagina and cervix
  • imaging tests such as a chest x-ray, a CT scan, an MRI scan or a PET scan

If the cancer has come back, you and your healthcare team will discuss a plan for your treatment and care.

Questions to ask about follow-up

To make the decisions that are right for you, ask your healthcare team questions about follow-up.

Expert review and references