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Fear of Getting Cancer Again (Recurrence, Relapse)

 

If Breast Cancer Returns
Fact Sheet

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Breast Cancer 101 (Interactive Multimedia)  - Survivorship and Recurrence
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After breast cancer treatment ends, many people are afraid they still have cancer or that it will come back. These fears are normal. For some people, talking to a counselor or joining a support group can be helpful. Your health care provider may be able to help you find a counselor or support group.

Learn more about support groups and other types of social support.

 

Komen Support Resources 

 

 

How is a recurrence or metastasis found?  

Breast cancer can recur at the original site (called recurrence or local recurrence), as well as spread to other parts of the body (called metastasis or distant recurrence).  

Local recurrence is usually found during a mammogram or a physical exam, either by a health care provider or by yourself. Metastasis is usually found when symptoms are noticed and reported during follow-up office visits.  

Blood and imaging tests (other than mammography or digital mammography) are not good ways to detect recurrence or metastasis and are not a standard part of follow-up care.

Learn about follow-up care after breast cancer treatment.  

Risk of recurrence or metastasis

Breast cancer can recur at the original site (called recurrence or local recurrence), as well as spread to other parts of the body (called metastasis or distant recurrence). Getting regular medical care after treatment is the best thing you can to do ensure any recurrence is found early when it is most treatable.

Learn more about medical care after treatment.

Local recurrence (recurrence)

Local recurrence (recurrence) is the return of cancer to the breast, chest or lymph nodes in the armpit. For women with early breast cancer, most local recurrence occurs within the first five years after treatment [8]. On average, seven to 11 percent of women with early breast cancer have a local recurrence during this time [8-9]. However, the risk of recurrence varies from person to person and depends on the type of breast cancer and treatment.

Learn about local recurrence.

Metastasis

Breast cancer most often metastasizes (spreads) to the bones, lungs or liver. The risk of metastasis varies from person to person and depends on the type of breast cancer and treatment.

Learn about metastasis.

Risk of a new breast cancer

Breast cancer survivors have an increased risk of getting a new breast cancer (called a second primary breast cancer) compared to people who have never had breast cancer [10-12]. Unlike a breast cancer recurrence (a return of the first breast cancer), a second primary tumor is a new cancer unrelated to the first.

Learn more about risk of a second primary breast cancer.

Risk of second cancers in people with family history or BRCA gene mutations

Compared to other survivors, the risk of a second primary breast cancer is higher for those with a strong family history and those who carry a BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene mutation [13-14]. People who carry BRCA1/2 mutations also have an increased risk of certain other cancers (especially ovarian cancer in women) [15-17].

Learn more about family history and risk of breast cancer.

Learn more about BRCA1/2 gene mutations and risk of breast and other cancers.

Lowering your risk of getting breast cancer again 

There are things you can do to help lower your risk of recurrence. If you are being treated with hormone therapy (tamoxifen or aromatase inhibitors), taking the drugs as prescribed not only lowers the risk of the first cancer coming back but also lowers the risk of getting a second primary breast cancer [18-19].

Maintaining a healthy weight, eating a balanced diet and getting regular exercise may also play a role in breast cancer survival.

Learn more about hormone therapy.

Learn more about healthy weight, diet and exercise.

Updated 11/01/13

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