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Colorectal Cancer: Recurrence


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Even the possibility of a recurrence can be devastating. You’ve had enough experience with colorectal cancer that all kinds of thoughts are likely to be swirling around in your head. This document is intended to help you through the experience by breaking down the issues one at a time.

Prior to diagnosis

  • If you have symptoms which lead you to believe you are experiencing a recurrence, contact your cancer doctor immediately. Let him or her tell you whether to arrange for an appointment. Do not allow concerns about being considered to be a worry-wort keep you from getting timely medical care than can save your life.
  • It is likely your doctor will order tests similar to the tests you had when your colorectal cancer was first diagnosed. (For more information, click here.)

If you have a diagnosed recurrence

There are three different types of cancer recurrence. The different types are defined by where in your body the cancer appears.

  • Local recurrence:
    • The cancer appears in the same place where it was first found, or very close by.
    • Local colorectal cancer is considered to be treatable and potentially curable.
  • Regional recurrence:
    • The cancer appears in the lymph nodes and tissue near where it started.
    • Regional colorectal cancer is considered to be treatable and potentially curable.
  • Distant recurrence:
    • The cancer appears in another part of the body which is further away from where it started. This is known as "metastasized" or "advanced cancer."
    • A distant recurrence of colorectal cancer is not curable, but it is treatable. While that may sound frightening, keep in mind that a disease like diabetes is also treatable but not curable.
    • If you have advanced cancer, instead of this document, read: Colorectal Cancer: Advanced 

We suggest that you consider the following three steps: 

Step 1.   Even if you have read similar parts of our guide before, we suggest that you first review “The Basics” in the attached section because they are the foundation for all of our discussions.

Step 2. Read about managing your medical care. Part of medical care is to start living a healthier lifestyle such as a cancer prevention lifestyle. 

Step 3.   At least skim the other sections of this document to see how the information applies to your life. Pay particular attention to:

  • Information about dealing with emotions. No matter how much one thinks about the possibility of recurrence, there is never enough preparation for the reality when it happens.
  • The suggestions about eating healthy. Diet has proved to be an important factor in the occurrence or recurrence of colon and rectal cancer.

While information can help you feel in control, too much can also be overwhelming. If you begin to feel overwhelmed, take a break and return when you’re ready to learn more. Or ask someone else to review a particular subject for you. Keep in mind that family and friends want to help even after treatment ends.

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