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What if cancer comes back?

Carcinoma - recurrence; Squamous cell - recurrence; Adenocarcinoma - recurrence; Lymphoma - recurrence; Tumor - recurrence; Leukemia - recurrence; Cancer - recurrence

One of the most common fears for people who have had cancer is that it may return. When cancer comes back, it is called recurrence. Cancer can recur in the same spot or in a whole different area of your body. No one likes to think about having cancer again, but it is important to learn about recurrence so you can move on with your life despite the uncertainty.

I Would Like to Learn About:

Why Cancer Comes Back

Cancer can come back if any cancer cells are left behind after treatment. This does not mean that your health care team did anything wrong. Sometimes, these cancer cells can't be found by tests. But over time, they grow until they are large enough to be detected. Sometimes, the cancer grows in the same area, but it can also spread to other parts of your body.

There are three types of recurrence:

Understanding Your Risk

This risk of cancer recurring is different for each person. Your own risk depends on several factors:

To learn more about your own risk, talk with your provider. They may be able to give you some idea of your personal recurrence and any signs to watch for.

What You Can Do

While there is nothing you can do to make sure your cancer will not return, there are some steps you can take to try to stay as upbeat and healthy as possible.

What if Your Cancer Does Come Back?

If you do get another cancer diagnosis, it is normal to feel anger, shock, fear, or denial. Facing cancer again is not easy. But you have been through it before, so you have experience in fighting cancer.

Here are some things you can do:

References

Demark-Wahnefried W, Rogers LQ, Alfano CM, et al. Practical clinical interventions for diet, physical activity, and weight control in cancer survivors. CA Cancer J Clin. 2015;65(3):167-189. PMID: 25683894 pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25683894/.

Friedman DL. Second malignant neoplasms. In: Niederhuber JE, Armitage JO, Kastan MB, Doroshow JH, Tepper JE, eds. Abeloff's Clinical Oncology. 6th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2020:chap 50.

National Cancer Institute website. Tumor grade fact sheet. www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/diagnosis-staging/prognosis/tumor-grade-fact-sheet. Updated May 3, 2013. Accessed October 24, 2020.

National Cancer Institute website. When cancer returns. www.cancer.gov/publications/patient-education/when-cancer-returns.pdf. Updated February 2019. Accessed October 24, 2020.

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Review Date: 7/28/2020  

Reviewed By: Todd Gersten, MD, Hematology/Oncology, Florida Cancer Specialists & Research Institute, Wellington, FL. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

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