Breast cancer is a serious medical condition that can have long-term consequences.
After undergoing treatment, many women are relieved to hear that cancer has gone into remission. But even after successful treatment and recovery, cancer can come back in the form of recurrence or metastasis. What might cause breast cancer to come back?
Breast Cancer Recurrence
Breast cancer is one of the most common types of cancer and also the most likely to be successfully treated.
Breast cancer generally has a 90% 5-year survival rate. That means that 90% of women diagnosed with breast cancer will still be alive five years after their diagnosis.
Once your treatment program is successful, you will probably hear your doctor use the word “remission” instead of “cure.” That’s because there isn’t a guarantee that all the cancer cells have been eliminated from your body. Still, the treatments have worked to the point where there are no detectable signs or symptoms.
In some cases (estimated around 7-11% of all breast cancer cases), cancer can come back even after a successful remission. This is called recurrence, and it means that some of the original cancer cells have survived and started to grow again.
Sometimes the recurrence can occur as a similar tumor in nearby tissues. Other times, the cancer cells may spread to more distant parts of the body and manifest as a different form of a cancer diagnosis.
Why Recurrent Breast Cancer Happens
While a cancerous tumor grows, it is possible that some of the cancerous cells may break off and hide in other tissues.
Then, when the main tumor is removed with surgery, those hidden cancer cells remain. Those cancerous cells may remain dormant for years without showing signs or indications of their presence.
Then, something triggers them to “reawaken” and grow into a new tumor. It is not always entirely clear why this happens, but there are a few factors that are associated with an increased risk of recurrence:
● Unhealthy eating
● Alcohol consumption
● High blood sugar
● Surgical infection
● Tumor larger than 5 centimeters
● HER2-positive cancer
● Cancer cells in four or more lymph nodes at the time of surgery
● Cancer cells in the chest muscles
Reducing Your Risk of Recurrence
The best way to reduce your risk of recurrence is to follow all the treatment and lifestyle recommendations from your doctor.
This will usually include suggestions related to:
● Regular physical activity
● Maintaining a healthy weight
● Eating a nutritious diet
● Limiting your alcohol intake
● Avoiding smoking
● Reducing stress and anxiety levels
It is also important to stay up-to-date with your follow-up appointments and tests as recommended by your doctor. This will help to detect any cancer recurrence as early as possible when treatment is more likely to be successful.
Let your doctors know about any questions or concerns you may have about your risk of recurrence, as well as any changes in your health. Staying informed and proactive with your care plan is one of the best ways to build your own defenses and create the best possible outcome for your health.