Rolling Out

What to do if breast cancer recurs

Breast cancer recurrence is when cancer returns after a period of remission
breast cancer
Photo credit: Image generated using AI technology

Breast cancer recurrence is a challenging and frightening experience for many survivors. After going through the initial treatment and feeling the relief of remission, facing cancer again can be overwhelming. Understanding what steps to take if breast cancer recurs is crucial for managing your health and maintaining hope. This article will guide you through the actions you can take, the available treatment options, and how to find support during this difficult time.

Understanding Breast Cancer Recurrence

Breast cancer recurrence is when cancer returns after a period of remission. It can happen months or even years after the initial treatment. There are three main types of recurrence:

  • Local recurrence: Cancer returns in the same breast or the scar tissue from the mastectomy.
  • Regional recurrence: Cancer is found in nearby lymph nodes.
  • Distant recurrence (metastasis): Cancer has spread to other body parts, such as bones, liver, lungs, or brain.

Knowing the type of recurrence is essential as it influences the treatment plan.

Recognizing the signs

Early detection of recurrent breast cancer can significantly impact treatment success. Be aware of the following signs and symptoms:

  • New lumps or thickening in the breast or chest wall
  • Changes in the skin texture or color over the breast
  • Nipple discharge or retraction
  • Swelling or pain in the breast or chest area
  • Swelling of the arm on the affected side
  • Bone pain, unexplained weight loss, or chronic fatigue

If you notice these symptoms, contact your healthcare provider immediately for further evaluation.

Immediate steps to take

If you suspect or have been diagnosed with a recurrence, taking the following steps can help manage the situation effectively:

  • Stay calm and gather information: Anxiety is natural, but staying calm helps you think clearly. Gather all your medical records, including pathology reports, treatment summaries, and imaging studies.
  • Consult your oncologist: Schedule an appointment to discuss your symptoms and undergo necessary tests to confirm the recurrence and determine its extent.
  • Seek a second opinion: Getting a second opinion can provide additional insights into your condition and treatment options.

Treatment options for recurrent breast cancer

The treatment plan for recurrent breast cancer depends on various factors, including the type of recurrence, previous treatments, and overall health. Here are standard treatment options:

  • Surgery: For local and regional recurrences, surgery may involve removing the tumor, breast tissue, or affected lymph nodes.
  • Radiation therapy: This can target specific areas where cancer has returned, mainly if it was not used during the initial treatment.
  • Hormone therapy: If the cancer is hormone receptor-positive, hormone therapy can help slow the growth of the tumor.
  • Chemotherapy: Chemotherapy may target cancer cells throughout the body, particularly in cases of distant recurrence.
  • Targeted therapy involves drugs specifically targeting cancer cell molecules, such as HER2-positive cancer treatments.
  • Immunotherapy: This treatment boosts the body’s immune system to fight cancer cells more effectively.

Coping with the emotional impact

Facing a recurrence of breast cancer can be emotionally draining. It’s essential to address your mental and emotional health alongside physical treatment:

  • Seek support: Reach out to support groups, either in-person or online, where you can share experiences and find comfort in knowing you are not alone.
  • Counseling: Professional counseling or therapy can help you navigate your emotions, fears, and anxieties.
  • Mindfulness and relaxation techniques: Meditation, yoga, and deep breathing exercises can reduce stress and improve overall well-being.

Lifestyle considerations

Making healthy lifestyle choices can support your treatment and recovery:

  • Nutrition: Eat a balanced diet of fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, and whole grains. Avoid processed foods and limit alcohol consumption.
  • Exercise: Regular physical activity can boost your mood, improve your physical health, and enhance your quality of life.
  • Rest: Ensure you get adequate sleep and rest to help your body recover and manage fatigue.

Building a support system

Having a solid support system can make a significant difference in your journey with recurrent breast cancer:

  • Family and friends: Lean on your loved ones for emotional support, practical help, and companionship.
  • Healthcare team: Maintain open communication with your healthcare providers to stay informed and involved in your treatment plan.
  • Survivor networks: Connect with other cancer survivors who have faced recurrence for shared experiences and advice.

Financial and legal considerations

Dealing with a recurrence can also bring financial and legal challenges. Here are some steps to consider:

  • Review insurance coverage: Ensure your health insurance covers the treatments you need and explore options for additional coverage if necessary.
  • Financial assistance: Look for programs and organizations that offer financial assistance to cancer patients.
  • Legal advice: If necessary, seek legal advice regarding employment rights, disability benefits, and other legal matters related to your condition.


Facing a recurrence of breast cancer is undoubtedly challenging, but taking proactive steps can help you manage the situation effectively. By staying informed, seeking appropriate medical care, and leaning on your support system, you can navigate this difficult journey with resilience and hope. Remember, you are not alone, and numerous resources and people are ready to support you through this time.

This story was created using AI technology.

Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Join our Newsletter

Sign up for Rolling Out news straight to your inbox.

Read more about:
Also read
Rolling Out