In layman’s terms, breast cancer recurrence happens when cancer has come back after treatment. When a number of breast cancer cells evade initial treatment and later aggregate, they cause the cancer to return despite months or even years of remission. It is important to note that a minimum of a year must pass between the execution of cancer therapy and the appearance of growing cancer cells for the growth to be deemed a recurrence, rather than treatment failure or progression of cancer.
Every survivor of breast cancer faces a chance of recurrence, so it is essential to understand what to look for and how to take proactive measures. We have written a previous article that details risk factors of breast cancer recurrence and many of the prevention and treatment methods used to fight the growth of cancer cells. However, new data has arisen, giving us an even greater insight into the ins and outs of breast cancer recurrence.
Initially, recurrence was thought to happen within the first five years after treatment. Risk is greatest during these beginning years, but up-to-date studies reveal that the risk of recurrence lasts more than thirty years. Cancer cells can lay dormant, causing them to be undetectable for long periods, leading to a recent notable concern of the risks of late recurrence. The growing concern is attributed to a high cumulative incidence increase (which is an estimate of the risk that one may experience an event within a specific period). This means that more patients are at risk for late recurrence due to an increased number of long-term breast cancer survivors.
While this information seems alarming, and certain factors make recurrence more likely, thankfully, those who have a recurrence are not in the majority, and research has allowed us to identify the most prominent contributors to recurrences. The study also notes that because of the allotted time between the research participants’ first diagnoses and present day, as well as the study’s focus on late recurrence (requiring an extended follow-up), there have been significant changes and improvements in treatment procedures and technology since the participants’ initial treatment. Therefore, the study results are uncertain in association with today’s regimens. Because of this, such studies are paramount and must be completed repetitively to find continual up-to-date results.
Recurrent Breast Cancer
While the chances of a recurrence are not common, it is still valuable to consider the risk factors and to understand the realities of the different types of recurrences.
Types of Recurrence
If a recurrence does occur, a breast surgeon will categorize it by its appearance in proximity to the initial breast cancer. The three forms are:
- This refers to when the breast cancer returns to the same chest area as the original tumor.
- Changes in appearance or feel (such as thickening of the skin or new lumps) are typical indicators of a local recurrence.
- It is deemed regional recurrence if cancer cells show growth in nearby lymph nodes (found in the armpit or collarbone) to the initial cancer area.
- Regional recurrence is differentiated from local recurrence solely because of the involvement of lymph nodes.
- Symptoms of regional recurrence may involve newfound pain or lumps in the arm attached to the side of the body with the original breast cancer.
- When cancer has traveled to different parts of the body (such as bone or organs), it is considered a distant recurrence.
- Another name for this is metastatic breast cancer.
- Bone pain, weakness, and extreme fatigue may point to metastatic breast cancer.
- It is considered stage IV cancer, as the cancer has extended to other parts of the body.
Which breast cancer is most likely to recur?
The initial diagnosis is a significant indicator of the chance of recurrence. Recurrent breast cancer is most likely to appear in patients who had an original tumor with more than three positive lymph nodes.
What are the chances of recurrence of breast cancer?
The cumulative incidence of recurrence is between 8.5-16.6% for fifteen to thirty-two years after a primary diagnosis. Chances of late recurrence are typically higher for those whose initial breast cancer was found in the lymph nodes and resulted in tumors over 2o millimeters. The chances are higher for women who were 35 or younger during their primary diagnosis. According to the recent data, 2,595 of the 20,315 women involved in the research study were diagnosed with a recurrence more than ten years following their initial bout with breast cancer.
Is recurrent breast cancer worse?
Recurrent breast cancer may prove more challenging to manage, and the therapy used in your initial treatment may no longer be effective in your specific case. Metastatic cancer may also require more aggressive treatment, as the cancer has spread to more than just one part of your body. Recurrent breast cancer should not automatically be considered worse than the primary diagnosis, but it will often require different methods of treatment or therapy.
Even simple cells can become tumors if not adequately treated. It is impossible to guarantee a 100% chance of freedom from cancer recurrence. Still, treatment may be able to halt the growth of undetected cells for many years, and there are methods of prevention that the doctor-patient duo can take to reduce your risk of recurrence.
While a breast cancer diagnosis can seem bleak, both Dr. Gorman and the researchers of this recent study recognize the significant evolution of modern-day regimens and their success rate. If your breast cancer comes back, treatment is available. Depending on the type of breast cancer, treatment may entail surgical treatment and radiation therapy. More aggressive treatment regimens and therapy approaches may be merited for those at a higher risk of late recurrence. Survivors are also encouraged to stay under extended surveillance by making regular check-ins with their doctors and surgeons.
Risk Factors and Therapy
The chances of recurrence are significantly lowered by the proactive utilization of hormone, chemo, or radiation therapy following the initial removal of cancer cells. You can play a role in lowering the recurrence risk factors by opting for therapy options (such as radiation treatment or endocrine therapy) recommended by your oncologist. Such regimens may attempt to prevent breast cancer recurrence or aid in reducing the potential of recurrence. Exercise and a healthy diet are also easy, proactive measures to implement for holistic well-being and to reduce the risks of recurrence.
Dr. Gorman and Texas Breast Center
Remember that recurrent breast cancer is not your fault. Though a breast cancer diagnosis can be alarming or dismaying, Dr. Gorman holds fast to the fact that “treatment for breast cancer has improved significantly over the last few years, and success rates continue to rise.” There is great hope. Dr. Gorman understands the significant emotional and physical impact a breast cancer diagnosis can play in one’s life. Her team at Texas Breast Center is dedicated to offering patients personalized, advanced care in the treatment of breast cancer recurrence and the prevention of recurrence, as well as support that lasts long after your treatment regimen.
Our previous article: https://www.texasbreastcenter.com/breast-cancer/breast-cancer-recurrence-what-and-why
New Data: https://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/963031?uac=390358FV&faf=1&sso=true&impID=3870849&src=mkm_ret_211213_mscpmrk_BC_Monthly
Valerie Gorman, MD, FACS, is a breast cancer surgeon. She is board certified by the American Board of Surgery and serves as Chief of Surgery and Medical Director of Surgical Services at Baylor Scott & White Medical Center – Waxahachie.
- Certificate, Physician Leadership Program, Southern Methodist University, Dallas, Texas (2010)
- M.D., University of Texas Southwestern Medical School at Dallas, Texas (June 1999)
- B.S., Biola University, LaMirada, California, (1994) Magna Cum Laude
- Residency in General Surgery, University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas, Texas (June 2004)