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What is Cancer Recurrence?

Dr. Sharmin Yaqin, MD
Cancer Immunotherapist
Founder, Denvax Cancer Immunotherapy, India

Cancer that goes away and comes back is called recurrence or relapse of cancer. It happens because despite the best efforts to remove cancer cells, some cells are left behind. It is these cells that grow to form cancer again. At times, cells may become dormant or enter into a sleeping mode, only to reactivate later. It can be very difficult to live with the fact that your cancer may come back.

Recurrence is of three types: Local is when recurrence occurs at the same place where it first originated, regionalwhen it occurs in the adjoining areas, i.e., in the vicinity, and distant when recurrence occurs in distant locations, i.e., far from the original site.

Cancer coming back after surgery is because:

• Some cancer cells were left behind during the operation, or
• some cancer cells had already broken away from the primary cancer but were too small to see (micrometastases).
Surgeons do their best to remove all of the cancer during surgery. But it is always possible to leave behind a small group of cancer cells. For this reason, your surgeon may recommend more treatment like chemotherapy, radiation therapy, hormone therapy, or a targeted cancer therapy, if they feel that there is a risk of cancer coming back. Cancer can come back after chemotherapy or radiotherapy because the treatment didn’t destroy all the cancer cells. This is one of the major reasons why the approach in cancer treatment is multi-modal, or multi-disciplinary, to prevent cancer from coming back.

What is the difference between Recurrence and Progression?

Recurrence is cancer that goes away and comes back. Progression is cancer that worsens or spreads to other areas of body. Progression is also when cancer comes back quickly and becomes resistant to treatment.

Recurrence may come multiple times. It can happen once, twice or thrice, and this might sound scary. But many people live with recurrence with the right treatment, and for them cancer is like any other chronic illness such as diabetes or heart disease.

How is a Cancer Recurrence Diagnosed?

A recurrence is diagnosed the same way as cancer is diagnosed. Your doctor might suspect you for recurrence if you start to develop certain signs and symptoms, or based on certain tests.

Look out for the following symptoms if you are suspecting a recurrence:

• Return of the previous cancer symptoms when first diagnosed, eg. a lump or swelling where your cancer first started
• New or unusual pain that is not going away
• Easy bleeding or unexplained bruising
• Weight loss without trying
• A rash or allergic reaction, such as swelling, itching, wheezing
• Chills, fevers
• Frequent headaches
• Shortness of breath
• Bloody stools, or blood in urine
• Nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, loss of appetite, or trouble swallowing
• A cough that doesn’t go away

Any unusual sign or symptom that’s persistent, growing and not going away needs to be shown to your doctor.

It may be possible you might be having some other problem just like anyone else, like a flu, infection, arthritis, heart problem. It is best you speak with your doctor to find the cause of your problem.

Learn more about Recurrence and ways to Prevent Cancer from Coming Back, in our CANCER FOCUS NEWSLETTER

Best wishes,

Dr. Sharmin Yaqin, MD

Director, The Denvax Clinics & Optimum Therapeutics Pvt. Ltd.