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Breast Cancer Recurrence

What Is A Breast Cancer Recurrence?

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In General

Breast cancer recurrence is the return of cancer after treatment and after a period of time during which the cancer cannot be detected. A recurrence may be in the same breast where it started or it could have spread beyond the breast. Even if it shows up in other parts of the body, it is still known as breast cancer because the cells are breast cancer cells. When the original cancer spreads to a new place, it is called a metastasis. (meh-TAS-tuh-sis).

A recurrence may be at the same stage as originally, or it may be more advanced. Even if it is an advanced stage, keep in mind that at least one person survives every cancer - and that person could be you. Even a 1% chance of long term survival means that one in one hundred people will survive.

A recurrent cancer starts with cancer cells that the first treatment did not fully remove or destroy. Some may have been too small to be seen in follow-up. This does not mean that the treatment you received was wrong. And it does not mean that you did anything wrong either. It just means that a small number of cancer cells survived the treatment. These cells grew over time into tumors or cancer that your doctor can now detect.

It is possible to develop a completely new cancer that has nothing to do with your original cancer. This doesn't happen very often. Recurrences are more common. If the cancer is not related to your first cancer, it is called a Secondary Primary Cancer.

Types of 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.
  • Regional recurrence: The cancer appears in the lymph nodes and tissue near where it started.
  • 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.

Local and regional breast cancer is considered to be treatable and potentially curable.

A distant recurrence of breast 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.

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