Are You Searching Your Medical Symptoms on the Internet?

As a cancer survivor, you may have lost trust in your body. When you notice things happening in your body, you may become concerned that it signals that your cancer has returned, or you have developed a new cancer or a treatment complication. You may turn to an internet search to research your symptoms, which may only further increase your level of concern and lack of sleep! You may not know when to reach out for help and which one of your multiple providers to call.

When educating my patients about the seemingly endless list of sign and symptoms of cancer recurrence, I prefer to avoid specifically identifying them. Instead, I advise my patients the following: if you should develop symptoms that are not acute (meaning life threatening or intense, i.e. a stroke, heart attack or an severe belly pain) and these non-acute symptoms last for one or two weeks, and these are either new symptoms or chronic ones that are different now, then it may be advisable to reach out to a provider whom you feel comfortable speaking with. Ideally, your cancer provider since they may be more skilled to evaluate whether it may or may not be related to cancer. This provider can advise you several things that usually translate to one of following messages:

  • This does not sound suspicious, please see your PCP for assessment and management.
  • This sounds a bit concerning. Why don’t we do some testing (like labs or scans) and have you come into the office to discuss the results.
  • Most commonly, you may be told that your symptom is real, but not yet specific enough to be diagnosed. In this case, you may be prescribed an empiric therapy such as medication to support your symptom(s) and be scheduled for a later reevaluation. Most commonly the symptom(s) will resolve and were therefore likely not related to cancer.

It is most important to remember that you are not alone! You are part of a team; you are the “monitor”, since you know best what is happening with your body. Your medical providers can help you make sense of your symptoms.

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