Long-term follow-up and your health after childhood cancer

Long-term follow-up and your health after childhood cancer

You may have some questions about how to keep well and healthy and what to worry about or not to worry about after finishing your treatment for cancer. 

Key points to remember about long-term follow-up and your health after childhood cancer

This page is written for young people who have had cancer treatment.

  • when you have finished cancer treatment, you may have questions about how to keep well and healthy and what to worry about or not worry about
  • making healthy choices now will have a positive effect on your health for the rest of your life
  • as you go through your teenage years, it's good to start taking more responsibility for keeping healthy

Will the cancer come back or am I at risk for another cancer?

For most childhood cancer survivors, the risk of the cancer coming back after 5 years is very small. Talk with your oncologist or paediatrician when you go to clinic about your individual risks as this is different for everyone.

The chance of developing a second cancer also depends on a number of things including:

  • your original cancer
  • age at diagnosis
  • type of treatment
  • environmental factors
  • individual risk (because of your genetic makeup)
  • health behaviours (such as diet, exercise, smoking)

Who should I tell I've had childhood cancer?

When you were first diagnosed and having treatment, it probably seemed like everyone knew you had cancer. As you get older and change schools or make new friends, fewer and fewer people will automatically know that you had cancer as a child. Some young people are happy to talk about their experience. Others feel that it 'labels' them and may make others see them differently. It is a very individual decision and no one will have the same view. It is OK to do what feels right for you at the time.

Make sure any new health professional you see knows your health history so they can care for you in the nest way.

It is important that whenever you see a new health professional (such as a doctor, nurse, dentist, midwife, optometrist), they know your health history so they can care for you in the best way.

This is where your 'health passport' (treatment summary) is really useful. Remember that if you lose your copy you can get another by contacting your treatment centre at any time.

Should I tell an employer I've had childhood cancer?

What you decide to tell an employer is your decision. It is important to remember that legally, employers cannot discriminate against you on the basis of any existing health condition.

Employers and employment contracts can often be different, but in most cases, an application form for a job will have the following question: 'Do you have any pre-existing medical condition that may affect your ability to perform this role?'. It is often better to tell the employer at the beginning that you had cancer but are now cured. Or, if you do have any late effects from your cancer or treatment, it may be important they know, so any adjustments to your work environment can be made.

Can I get insurance cover if I've had childhood cancer?

The different types of insurance (travel, health, life and income protection) cover you for unknown 'yet to develop' health conditions. Insurers generally do not cover any pre-existing health conditions. This means if you develop a condition before you have insurance, the policy won't cover that condition or anything related to it. This would include side effects from cancer treatment. 

It may be a good idea for you to first get expert advice from an insurance broker and to 'shop around' various insurance companies for the best cover. Get a clear understanding before signing a policy.

What can I do to keep healthy after childhood cancer?

Making healthy choices now will have a positive effect on your health for the rest of your life.

It is important to have a good family doctor (GP) who knows your health history and who you trust. It is a good idea to have a health check at least once a year especially once you have finished long-term follow-up care.

Diet and exercise are important to keeping healthy. As you go through your teenage years, it's good to start taking more responsibility for what you eat, how much you drink and the exercise you do.

How can I eat healthily after childhood cancer?

There are some positive steps you can take to keep healthy:

  • try to have 5 servings of fruit and vegetables a day
  • keep a healthy weight for your age and height
  • try to limit the amount of fat you have each day

What about exercise after childhood cancer?

It's really important to exercise after cancer treatment.

Exercise is a great way to improve your mood and wellbeing.

Exercise strengthens the bones (this is especially important if you had steroids or radiation) and helps make your heart and lungs stronger.

Joining a gym, playing a team sport, running, cycling and swimming are all good ways to exercise and often what people think of first. But remember, walking to school, uni, work or to the shops are all easy ways of increasing the amount of exercise you do each day.

If you are having any trouble exercising, make sure to talk to your healthcare team. They may have some suggestions and ways of helping you.

What about skin care after childhood cancer?

It's important to protect your skin from sun damage. This is especially true if you've had radiotherapy - the skin in that area may be more at risk of damage.

How can I look after my skin?

  • cover up and use high factor sunscreen when in the sun
  • don't use tanning beds
  • know your own skin, check for changes and ask your doctor to check it at least once a year
  • get your doctor to check any new moles, sores that don't heal, or changes to a freckle

Can I drink alcohol after having childhood cancer?

Limit the amount of alcohol you drink and how often you drink. Don't binge drink as you may be at greater risk of causing damage to your liver and brain than your friends.

Check out Alcohol.org.nz for the latest advice on alcohol. See the Health Promotion Agency's 'Guide to standard drinks (PDF, 1.23MB)'. You'll find the standard drinks content on the label, container or packaging of each drink.

What about smoking after childhood cancer?

You already know you shouldn't smoke - please don't! Smoking is linked with cancer - especially of the lungs, mouth, throat and bladder.

What about illegal drugs after childhood cancer?

We are not even going to go there - just don't do it!

Can I donate blood after having childhood cancer?

There isn't a simple 'yes' or 'no' answer. In most cases, if you have had a leukaemia or lymphoma, you cannot donate blood. 

If you'd like to know more about this, contact the NZ Blood Service (0800 448 325).

What if I have more questions about my health after childhood cancer?

If you still have some unanswered questions, talk to your healthcare team.

All the pages in the childhood cancer section of this website have been written by health professionals who work in the field of paediatric oncology. They have been reviewed by the members of the National Child Cancer Network (NZ). Medical information is authorised by the clinical leader of the National Child Cancer Network.

This page last reviewed 29 November 2018.
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