Follow-up after treatment for non-Hodgkin lymphoma

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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 (relapsed).

Follow-up care may not seem that important to you, especially if your treatment was long or very hard. You may find the idea of follow-up care stressful because it reminds you of your cancer experience or because you are worried about what a test might reveal. Talk to your healthcare team about how you feel and about why follow-up matters. Your healthcare team is there to help.

Schedule for follow-up visits

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

  • any new lump or swelling
  • fever that won't go away
  • night sweats
  • weight loss for no reason

The chance that NHL will come back is greatest within 3 to 5 years, so you will need close follow-up during this time.

Follow-up visits for NHL are usually scheduled every 3 to 4 months for 2 years and then every 6 months for 3 years.

For aggressive (fast-growing) types of NHL, follow-up visits happen quite often during the first 3 years and less often after that. There are very few relapses more than 5 years after treatment for aggressive lymphomas finishes, so regular visits may not continue after 5 years.

For indolent (slow-growing) types of NHL, regular follow-up visits usually continue throughout the person's lifetime.

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 any new symptoms and if your immunizations are up to date.

Your doctor may do a physical exam, including:

  • measuring vital signs to check for fever, shortness of breath and rapid heartbeat
  • feeling areas of the neck, underarm and groin for any swollen (enlarged) lymph nodes
  • feeling the abdomen for enlarged organs
  • checking the skeleton for tenderness or pain

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

  • complete blood count (CBC) to check for abnormal blood cell counts
  • blood chemistry tests to show how well certain organs are working
  • imaging tests, such as chest x-ray, CT scan, MRI or ultrasound to get helpful information about the spleen, liver or lymph nodes
  • bone marrow aspiration and biopsy to follow up after the results of the blood tests or if new symptoms develop
If the cancer has come back, you and your healthcare team will discuss your treatment and care.

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

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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