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Breast cancer recurrence and prognosis

If your breast cancer recurrence is found only in the area of the breast where your original cancer was removed (local recurrence) and/or it’s been a long time since you were first treated, then it can often be successfully treated.

There is some uncertainty about whether having a local recurrence affects your overall prognosis (outlook). Some breast cancer specialists believe that a local recurrence does not in itself mean that that the cancer is more likely to spread in the future. Other specialists think that local recurrence does increase the risk of the cancer spreading elsewhere. Research is ongoing to try to answer this question and to pinpoint who may be at most risk.

People who have a regional recurrence can have an increased risk of cancer cells spreading to other areas of the body and become a secondary breast cancer. Therefore, there will be more uncertainty about the overall prognosis than a local recurrence. Treatments such as chemotherapy, hormone and targeted therapies are given because they are systemic treatments which work throughout the whole body.

When breast cancer spreads to other parts of the body like the bones, lungs, liver or brain this is called secondary breast cancer.

If you’re concerned about what this might mean for you, talk with your specialist team or call our Helpline.

How you might feel

When you find out that your cancer has recurred you may experience a mix of emotions. You might feel shocked, angry or frightened. Some people may feel that the treatment they had for their original cancer has ‘let them down’, which can make them feel less trusting of future treatment. Others feel that they are better equipped to cope with treatment as they know what to expect.

It is important that you have a chance to ask any questions. Your cancer specialist is often the best person to ask as they will be able to give you information that is tailored to your individual situation. Your breast care nurse can also be a helpful source of information and support.

People who have a regional recurrence can have an increased risk of cancer cells spreading to other parts of the body and developing secondary breast cancer. Ongoing treatment and an uncertain prognosis can cause you to feel worried and anxious about your future. There’s no easy way to deal with this uncertainty but you might want to get in touch with other people who are going through something similar. You can exchange tips on coping with uncertainty, side effects of treatment, ask questions, share experiences and talk through concerns on our online Discussion Forum.

Content last reviewed December2013; next planned review 2015

Last edited:

02 December 2013