When Cancer Comes Back: Frequently Asked Questions

When facing a recurrent cancer diagnosis, you may have questions about how or why your cancer has come back. While it’€™s important to have your doctor explain your individual diagnosis in detail, you can read below for answers to some commonly asked questions about recurrent cancer:

  • What is recurrent cancer? According to the American Cancer Society, cancer recurrence is defined as the return of cancer after treatment and after a period of time that the cancer cannot be detected.
  • How did my cancer come back?€“ Cancer recurrences can happen when cancerous cells regrow after treatment is complete. A cancer recurrence doesn’t necessarily mean the first treatment was not effective. Some patients have a higher risk of recurrence and advances in cancer care allow for long-term management of cancer, including recurrences.
  • Could I have prevented the recurrence? When cancer comes back, it does not mean you did something wrong or that the treatment you received did not work. Although exercise and a healthy lifestyle are important, it’s crucial to understand that there is no research or evidence at this time that shows a cancer recurrence is preventable. 
  • What are my treatment options? Treatments for recurrent cancer depend on the type of cancer, when and where it recurs, whether it has spread and a patient’s overall health among other factors. Options may include surgery, chemotherapy, hormone therapy, radiation therapy or a combination of these treatments and may differ from the type of treatment you had originally.
  • How can I cope emotionally when cancer comes back? Feeling angry and upset when facing a cancer recurrence is normal. Many patients find emotional support within their local community, online support groups or personal counseling.

To learn more about recurrent cancer, visit the American Cancer Society here.

This is not intended as medical advice to replace the expertise and judgment of your health care team. It is intended to help you and your family make informed decisions, together with your doctor.