Your primary cancer has come back (recurrence)

Recurrence is the term used to describe breast cancer that has returned following treatment (this does not include a new primary breast cancer).

While most people have no further problems, sometimes breast cancer can come back. This can either be a local recurrence or a regional recurrence (also called locally advanced).

Local recurrence

This is when the breast cancer has come back in the chest/breast area, in the skin near the original site or in the scar, but has not spread to other parts of the body. Local recurrence is treatable.

If you notice any changes in the skin around your scar line or chest area, contact your breast care nurse or specialist.

Regional recurrence (also called locally advanced)

This is when the breast cancer has come back and has spread beyond the breast and lymph nodes under the arm into the tissues and lymph nodes around the chest, neck and under the breastbone. How regional recurrence is treated will depend on what treatments you had previously, but could include surgery, radiotherapy and drug treatments.

If you notice any changes around the scar line or in your breast, chest or armpit or around your collarbone, contact your breast care nurse or specialist.

Treatment after a recurrence

When you have a local or regional recurrence of breast cancer, your doctors may recommend that you have tests to see if cancer is in any other parts of your body before starting treatment. These may include blood tests, a bone scan, a chest x-ray, CT scan, MRI scan or a PET scan. These tests do not necessarily mean that they think your cancer has spread. But your doctors will want to check to make sure you’re being offered the most appropriate treatment.

Your treatment options will be dependent on a number of factors:

  • the grade of the cancer
  • the stage of the cancer
  • the size of the cancer
  • whether or not it is hormone sensitive
  • whether or not it is HER2 positive
  • how long ago your original breast cancer was diagnosed
  • what treatments you had previously.
Last reviewed: December 2013
Next planned review is December 2015

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