What is Recurrent Cancer?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Kristen Osborne
  • Last Modified Date: 06 October 2018
  • Copyright Protected:
    Conjecture Corporation
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Recurrent cancer is cancer that returns after a patient is believed to be in remission. Recurrence rates vary depending on type and stage of cancer, as well as treatment options selected by the patient. There are a number of treatment choices available to patients with recurrent cancer. An oncologist usually supervises care and provides patients with information about the treatments available, allowing them to make the best decision for their cancers and situations. A diagnosis of recurrent cancer can be traumatic for a patient and some patients avail themselves of psychological, as well as physical, treatments for their cancer.

The goal of many forms of cancer treatments is remission, where cancer cells become undetectable in the body and the patient lives a normal, active life. While patients are in remission, they are routinely screened for recurrence of the cancer. Screenings can include medical imaging studies, physical exams, and follow-up conversations with a doctor. They are designed to catch recurrent cancer early in order to increase the likelihood of a successful treatment outcome.

There are three main types of recurrent cancer: local, regional, and distant. If a recurrence is local, the cancer returns to the original or primary tumor site. Regional cancers show up near the primary tumor site and they are indicative of a spread through the lymph nodes. This is a cause for concern. Distant recurrent cancers are located far away from the original tumor site and indicate widespread metastasis.


As with the original cancer, the first step in treatment is to confirm the diagnosis and learn more about the stage and nature of the cancer. This information is used to develop options for treatment plans. Sometimes, the treatment for recurrent cancer is identical to the original cancer treatment. In other cases, patients may need to look at other options. Some recurrent cancers cannot be treated, and the patient is provided with supportive care to manage symptoms and stay comfortable.

Reappearing cancer can turn up months or years after diagnosis. With some cancers, there are medications available to reduce the risk of recurrence, such as tamoxifen for breast cancer patients. Receiving treatment from an oncologist with ample experience can increase the chances of a good outcome. Oncologists who keep up with the latest research can offer access to the newest treatments, as well as clinical trials for cancer patients who are running out of treatment options.



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