What is a cancer recurrence?

When cancer returns after a period of remission, it’s considered a recurrence. A cancer recurrence happens because, in spite of the best efforts to rid you of your cancer, some cells from your cancer remain.

A cancer recurrence means it’s the same cancer coming back after some period of time. In rare cases, you may be diagnosed with a new cancer that’s completely unrelated to your first cancer. This is referred to as a second primary cancer.

The following factors may increase your risk of developing another type of cancer:

  • Exposure to cigarette smoke or other cancer-causing agents
  • Skin damage caused by overexposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun or artificial sources such as solariums
  • Ageing
  • Being born with an inherited gene that increases the chance of developing some cancers (about 5% of cancers)
  • Having some forms of cancer treatment, particularly as a child
  • Lifestyle factors such as smoking, eating an unhealthy diet, drinking too much alcohol, being overweight, and not getting enough exercise

Emotions you may face during a recurrence:

A cancer recurrence brings back many of the same emotions you felt when you were first diagnosed with cancer. Common emotions include:

  • Distress. When you ended treatment for your initial cancer, you slowly started to move on with your life, thinking the cancer was gone. In the weeks, months or years that passed, cancer became less and less a part of your daily life.
    The shock of having cancer come back after you assumed it was gone can cause distress — sometimes more so than your first diagnosis did.
  • Self-doubt. You may doubt the wisdom of your past treatment decisions or the lifestyle choices you made since your last cancer experience. Try not to look backwards. Instead, focus on your current situation and what you need to do now to move forward.
  • Anger. It’s very common and reasonable to be angry that your cancer has returned.
    You might even be angry with your doctor for not stopping your cancer the first time. Or you might wonder why you put up with the side effects of your original treatment, just to have the cancer recur anyway. But you and your doctor made treatment choices based on the information available at that time.
    Seeking a second opinion may help you to better understand your choices.
  • Fatigue. It’s normal to feel that you can’t deal with cancer again. Whether it’s the side effects of the treatment you’re dreading or having to tell your friends and family that you have cancer, you’ve done it before.
    Take heart in the fact that you were able to do it the first time, even though you might have doubted yourself back then.

All of these feelings are normal, and the same coping mechanisms you used during your first cancer diagnosis are likely to work now. Whether it was a best friend, a family member or a support group you turned to, you know that person or group provides good emotional support.

You have other advantages this time around. Rely on these to help you cope.

How to cope with a cancer recurrence:

  • You know more now. Knowing more about cancer and your treatment options can help reduce your anxiety. Think about how much you knew about cancer at your first diagnosis. Compare this to what you know now, such as what treatment involves and what side effects to expect.
  • You’ve built relationships. You’ve worked closely with your doctor and you know your way around the hospital or clinic. This can make you feel more comfortable.
  • You’ve done this before. Based on your first experience with cancer, you know what’s best for you during this time. Whether you needed some time alone or preferred having someone nearby, you can draw on your experience to plan ahead.

Ways ​To ​Prevent Cancer Recurrence:

  • Let go of your emotional ​trauma
  • Implementing the right diet plan — guidance from a clinical nutritionist
  • Avoid toxins and cleanse your body
  • Exercise ​daily
  • Get plenty of sleep every night
  • Stop smoking and drinking 

Use lessons from your initial treatment to give you confidence and strength as you face the anger and fear that come with a cancer recurrence. Express your feelings to your doctor or therapist. The conversation that results can give you a better understanding of your situation, and it can help you make treatment decisions. Use these experiences to your advantage. They can help you feel more in control when making decisions about your treatment. Express your feelings to your doctor. The conversation that results can give you a better understanding of your situation, and it can help you make treatment decisions.

Disclaimer: The views expressed are of the writer only. You can also read more about coping with a cancer recurrence here

Samara Mahindra

Founder & CEO of CARER
CARER works with cancer patients, caregivers, survivors, and specialists to prevent and help cancer patients. To know more about Carer (Cancer Prevention & Therapy Experts), please visit here.

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