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Cancer Recurrence: Will It Come Back To Haunt You?



After successful treatment for cancer, most patients are worried about the recurrence of the dreaded disease. Although patients recover, fear tends to linger on and uncertainty overshadows the thought process. At such a point, it is important that patients receive appropriate support and care from family, friends, and the healthcare team. Along with support, patients also need to be prepared for any recurrence but without getting depressed or losing hope. Thus management of emotions along with a strong will is important in fighting cancer.

What is Cancer Recurrence?

Recurrence is the return of cancer after the treatment has been completed. It occurs usually after a period of time during which detection becomes difficult. Cancer may occur at the same place where it first started from or may develop at another site. Cancer occurrence is different from cancer progression. Progression means when cancer spreads rapidly to other sites or gets worse. In some cases, it becomes difficult to differentiate between progression and recurrence, because many a time, cancer may not have been removed completely and the remaining cells would have progressed aggressively to form visible cancer again.

Types and Risk of Recurrence

The different types of cancer recurrence include:

  • Local Recurrence: This is when cancer comes back and forms at the same place as it first started.
  • Regional Recurrence: This means that cancer has returned to the lymph nodes where cancer originally started.
  • Distant Recurrence: This means that although cancer has returned, its development is in another site than its first appearance.

Your doctor will be able to identify the type of cancer recurrence you are facing, and plan your treatment accordingly.
The risk of recurrence differs for every cancer patient. For some, it may recur soon, but many might see recurrence after many years of treatment.  There are many factors that influence recurrence such as; the type of cancer, treatment type and duration, and how long since you were treated for your cancer. It is advisable to consult your doctor regarding your risk of recurrence.

Prevention of Recurrence: Debunking Theories

After treatment, many people seek to know whether any special efforts can help to avoid recurrence. One of the most common things that patients do is change their diet to prevent a recurrence.

After cancer, many patients tend to regulate their eating habits and include a much more healthy diet. Although it is extremely beneficial, there are no concrete studies suggesting regulation of cancer recurrence through diet. The American Cancer Society suggests following the same dietary guidelines as those recommended for prevention of cancer:

  • Physical   Activity: Although no studies show the effectiveness of physical activity in avoiding a recurrence of cancer, doctors recommend moderate exercise and activity in order to promote better health after cancer.
  • Vitamins and Supplements: Many cancer survivors believe that taking vitamins, herbs, and supplements will help in the prevention of cancer recurrence, but yet again this theory is not backed by any research.  In fact, many supplements are not even approved by the FDA and thus their usage could cause further complications.

Thus the above data clearly depicts that there are no definitive studies that confirm the claims of prevention of cancer recurrence. Patients should in fact consult their doctor and work towards promoting healthy life.

Coping with Uncertainty

It is important for every cancer patient to be prepared for chances of cancer recurrence. Recurrence might not happen immediately, in many cases, it takes months or years to recur. Thus you should be well prepared to face cancer recurrence. Here are a few tips to help you be prepared and deal with the uncertainty;

  • Be well informed of your health state and what services are available for you. This gives a greater sense of control.
  • Acceptance is the key to coping. Accept that you are at a risk, and thus deal with it more easily.
  • Express your fear and anxiety feelings to a friend, family member, or caregiver.
  • Enjoy what you have presently, rather than worrying about uncertainty. Develop a positive attitude.
  • Get support from friends and family members.

Cancer recurrence is an anxiety-inducing aspect, but patients must take necessary steps to cope with it in order to live the present life with ease.