The following is a brief overview on recurrence. For more information, please consult the websites listed on our organizations page.
Every woman who goes through breast cancer wonders "will it come back?" Even if you have done everything you can to stay healthy and active, unfortunately, the risk of breast cancer's return never goes away completely. If the breast cancer comes back though, it's important to know that there are treatment options.
How can this happen?
When breast cancer recurs, it is a regrowth of the cancer you were originally diagnosed with; the same cancer you and your doctors fought so hard to eliminate. Unfortunately, a very small amount of cells sometimes escape destruction and because they are too small to be detected by x-ray, they grow over time to a size that eventually becomes big enough to be picked up by x-ray. At this point, the cells may be large enough to be felt and they may cause symptoms at the site of the original breast cancer or somewhere else in the body.
When does this happen?
Cancer usually comes back within the first five years after treatment. The mean (similar to an average) time for developing local and regional recurrence after the initial treatment is three years. The mean time for developing a distant recurrence is two years. However, one-third of all recurrences occur even after five years.
If your mammogram shows a problem, your oncologist will determine how to best treat the breast cancer based on many factors. Your previous treatment, the tumor size, the site of the tumor, lymph node involvement, if any, as well as others, will all play in the method of therapy chosen. After everything has been considered, your oncologist will also determine whether you are in a low risk, middle risk, or high risk group. Talk to your doctor to understand how each group is classified.
Treating a recurrence can range from local treatment for those in the low risk group to systemic therapy for those in a high risk group. In the case of a recurrence, however, many doctors opt for a mastectomy because of its effectiveness in removing the cancer cells and because a mastectomy makes it unlikely that breast cancer will come back again.
If your cancer has come back, remember that there is always something that may help you in a significant way, whether it's the benefits of treatment, hope, the love of family and friends or the encouragement that can come from women going through your same situation.