Follow-up after treatment for lung cancer

Last medical review:

Follow-up after treatment is an important part of cancer care. Follow-up for lung cancer is often shared among the cancer specialists (medical, surgical and radiation oncologists) 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 a cough that is getting worse

  • start coughing up blood

  • have shortness of breath or find it hard to breathe

  • have pain in your chest, stomach, back, legs or hips

  • have headaches

  • start losing weight

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

Schedule for follow-up visits

Follow-up visits for lung cancer are usually scheduled:

  • 3 to 6 months after initial treatment, then

  • every 6 months for 2 or 3 years, then

  • once a year for 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. If you smoked when you were diagnosed, they will also ask if you have stopped smoking and offer you help to quit if you still smoke.

Your doctor may do a physical exam, including:

  • listening to the lungs or the remaining lung

  • feeling the abdomen for any swelling or lumps

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

  • blood chemistry tests to check if the lung cancer has spread to the liver, bones or kidneys

  • a CT scan or chest x-ray to look for any changes to the lungs or the area where the tumour was removed

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

  • Stephen Lam, MD, FRCPC
  • American Cancer Society . After Lung Cancer Treatment . 2019 :
  • Cancer Care Ontario. Lung Cancer Follow-up Pathway Map. 2019: Version 2019.05.
  • Planchard D, Popat S, Kerr, K, Novello S, Smit EF, Faivre-Finn C, et al. Metastatic non-small cell lung cancer: ESMO Clinical Practice Guidelines for diagnosis, treatment and follow-up. ESMO Clinical Practice Guidelines. 2019: Friday, August 28, 2020.
  • Chiang A, Detterbeck FC, Stewart T, Decker RH, Tanoue L. Non–small cell lung cancer. DeVita VT Jr, Lawrence TS, Rosenberg SA, eds. DeVita, Hellman, and Rosenberg's Cancer: Principles & Practice of Oncology. 11th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Wolters Kluwer; 2019: 48:618–670.
  • Hann CL, Wu MA, Rekhtman N, Rudin CM. Small cell and neuroendocrine tumors of the lung. DeVita VT Jr, Lawrence TS, Rosenberg SA, eds. DeVita, Hellman, and Rosenberg's Cancer: Principles & Practice of Oncology. 11th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Wolters Kluwer; 2019: 49:671–699.
  • National Comprehensive Cancer Network . NCCN Clinical Practice Guidelines in Oncology: Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer (Version 3.2020) . 2020 .
  • National Comprehensive Cancer Network. NCCN Clinical Practice Guidelines in Oncology: Small Cell Lung Cancer (Version 1.2021). 2020.

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.

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