Breast cancer recurrence and prognosis

If your breast cancer has come back, known as recurrence, your outlook (prognosis) will depend on type of recurrence you have.

Local recurrence

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 mean 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.

Locally advanced breast cancer (also known as regional recurrence)

People whose cancer has come back and spread to the tissues and lymph nodes around the chest, neck and under the breastbone (locally advanced) can have an increased risk of cancer cells spreading to other areas of the body. This means, there will be more uncertainty about the overall prognosis.

Treatments such as chemotherapy, hormone and targeted therapies are given because they work throughout the whole body.

Secondary breast cancer

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

A diagnosis of secondary breast cancer means that the cancer can be treated but it can’t be cured. The aim of treatment is to control and slow down the spread of the disease, to relieve symptoms and to give you the best possible quality of life, for as long as possible.

Your specialist will be able to tell you about the likely progress of your cancer, and what you might expect.

How you might feel

When you find out that your cancer has come back you may experience a mix of emotions. You might feel shocked, angry or frightened.

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.

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.

You can also call our free Helpline on 0808 800 6000 for information and support, and to find out about Breast Cancer Care’s services.

Last reviewed: July 2016
Next planned review begins 2018

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Please note that we cannot respond to comments. If you have any questions about breast cancer please contact the Helpline on 0808 800 6000.

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