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worried senior with cancerMaybe in the back of your mind, you feared that your cancer might return. Now you might be thinking, “How can this be happening to me again?

Haven’t I been through enough?”

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You may be feeling shocked, angry, sad, or scared. Many people have these feelings. But you have something now that you didn’t have before – experience. You’ve lived through cancer once. You know a lot about what to expect and hope for.

Also remember that treatments may have improved since you had your first cancer. New drugs or methods may help with your treatment or in managing side effects. In fact, cancer is now often thought of as a chronic disease, one which people manage for many years.

When cancer comes back, doctors call it a recurrence or recurrent cancer. Some things you should know are:

  • A recurrent cancer starts with cancer cells that the first treatment didn’t fully remove or destroy. Some may have been too small to be seen in follow-up. This doesn’t mean that the treatment you received was wrong. And it doesn’t mean that you did anything wrong, either. It just means that a small number of cancer cells survived the treatment. These cells grew over time into tumors or cancer that your doctor can now detect.
  • When cancer comes back, it doesn’t always show up in the same part of the body. For example, if you had colon cancer, it may come back in your liver. But the cancer is still called colon cancer. When the original cancer spreads to a new place, it is called a metastasis (meh-TAS-tuh-sis).
  • It is possible to develop a completely new cancer that has nothing to do with your original cancer. But this doesn’t happen very often. Recurrences are more common.

Where Cancer Can Return

Doctors define recurrent cancers by where they develop. The different types of recurrence are:

Local recurrence
Regional recurrence
Distant recurrence

  1. Local recurrence– This means that the cancer is in the same place as the original cancer or is very close to it.
  2. Regional recurrence– This is when tumors grow in lymph nodes or tissues near the place of the original cancer.
  3. Distant recurrence– In these cases, the cancer has spread (metastasized) to organs or tissues far from the place of the original cancer.

Local cancer may be easier to treat than regional or distant cancer. But this can be different for each patient. Talk with your doctor about your options.

Cancer that returns can affect all parts of your life. You may feel weak and no longer in control. But you don’t have to feel that way. You can take part in your care and in making decisions. You can also talk with your health care team and loved ones as you decide about your care. This may help you feel a sense of control and well-being.

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