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The come back

Cancer recurrence explained.

Article Author: Beverly Wong-Ken

Article Date:

family holding each other

Getting a cancer diagnosis once is a life-changing experience. To receive the diagnosis a second, or even a third time, can be overwhelming. Jennifer Crozier, MD, medical oncologist at Baptist MD Anderson Cancer Center, explained why cancer sometimes comes back and provided tips for how patients can reduce the risk of recurrence and try their best to cope.

How can it return?

A cancer recurrence is when cancer returns after successful treatment. It can happen weeks, months or even years after the original cancer was treated. But why does this happen?

“Cancer returns when cancer cells that were initially there at the time of the original diagnosis survive treatment and regrow,” Dr. Crozier explained. “The returning cancer can occur either in the place where it started originally, which is known as a local recurrence, or at a more distant location such as another organ. This is called a distant or metastatic recurrence.”

According to Dr. Crozier, the chance of a cancer coming back depends on the type and stage of cancer that was originally diagnosed.

“Cancers that are at a more advanced stage when they are diagnosed are more likely to recur,” she said. “For example, stage three is more likely to recur then stage two. Stage two is more likely to recur than stage one.”

What you can control, and what you can’t

Unfortunately, it’s not possible to know for sure whether or not the cancer will return after treatment ends. However, there are a few ways you can reduce the risk of it coming back.

“Following your multidisciplinary team’s guidance is important to reduce the risk of recurrence,” said Dr. Crozier. “There are multiple forms of treatment that may be used, including surgery, chemotherapy, immunotherapy and radiation therapy. There are other controllable factors such as maintaining a healthy diet, regular exercise, limiting alcohol intake and not smoking.”

If cancer does recur, remember, you know more now about cancer and your treatment options. Take heart in the fact that you had the strength to get through this before and know that you don’t have to do it alone.

“Having a support system is very important,” Dr. Crozier said. “This can be a combination of family, friends, faith-based communities, and support groups. If you’re in need of additional support, connecting with a therapist or counselor who specializes with people who have cancer may be beneficial.”

Baptist MD Anderson Cancer Center offers a wide range of supportive services including outpatient resources to support patients and their families during and after cancer treatment.

If you have a question about a cancer sign or symptom that concerns you, talk to your doctor. If you need a cancer specialist, please call 904.202.7300 or visit BaptistMDAnderson.com.

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