Cancer recurrence – a speedbump on a highway towards cancer-free life

Neelam, a mother of two fought breast cancer for almost three years and survived. After her victory over the disease, she started living her life as a blessing, making each and every moment count. However, when she went to the doctor to check the inflamed skin on her breast, she was shattered after the results came out. She started crying her heart out, because her cancer had come back. Cancer recurrence is indeed a traumatic experience. More than the physical tensions, it attacks patient’s will to live.

Cancer recurrence

Cancer recurrence means that cancer has come back after the treatment and between the times during which the cancer could not be detected. The first cancer has higher chances of coming back. Recurrence starts with cancer cells that were not fully destroyed or removed during the first treatment. However, this does not mean that the treatment was wrong. Neither it means that patient did something which made cancer reoccur. It just means that some cells survived during the treatment at first time. Even though it seems that treatment has got rid of all those cancer cells.

The problem is mainly because the cancer cells those are inactive for many years after the first treatment. But in some cases, suddenly the changes in immune system activate the cells. It can grow and divide to create other cells. Once those cells go on growing and dividing, it becomes big enough for a test to detect it as a recurred cancer. Cancer recurrence is found in one of the five patients. Sometimes, the mutated genes can cause a second type of cancer.

Cancers are more likely to come back if –

  • They are aggressive i.e. fast growing.
  • Advanced cancers i.e. detected in later stages.
  • Cancer is widespread in the body.

Types of cancer recurrence

When the cancer is detected again, it is not necessary that it will be found at a same spot. It can be found anywhere else. Here are the types of cancer recurrence.

  • Local recurrence.

When the cancer appears in the same spot where it was first found, it is called local recurrence. This means that the cancer has not spread to the lymph nodes or other parts of the body.

  • Regional recurrence.

When can cancer reappears in the tissues located close in the surroundings of the earlier cancer, it is called as regional recurrence.

  • Distant recurrence.

Sometimes when the cancer reappears, it is nowhere close to the original cancer spot from where it was removed earlier. It is called as distant recurrence.

When the recurrence occurs, the doctor informs the patient about the type of recurrence and the best possible treatments for the same.

Image credits- Corbis
Image credits- Corbis

When does the cancer recur?  

Cancer can reappear any time after the treatment but breast cancer mostly recurs in the first three to five years after initial treatment.  Breast cancer can come back as a local recurrence i.e. in the treated breast or near the mastectomy scar or as a distant recurrence. The most common sites of recurrence are the lymph nodes, the bones, liver, or lungs.

Genetics and cancer recurrence.

Now medical advancements have made it a little easier to gauge the recurrence of cancer. One of such tests is Liquid Biopsy. It is a very sensitive screening which tests for cancer-free DNAs in body and can thus, accurately monitor cancer recurrence.

Though positive or negative attitude does not control the cancer or its recurrence, it definitely helps the patients to gain more strength to fight the battle against cancer.

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