A primary concern for many breast cancer survivors is the fear of recurrence. Understandably, it can trigger memories of the anxiety, depression, and uncertainty caused by the initial diagnosis and treatment.
Unfortunately, recurrence can happen soon after your initial treatment or many years later. Continue reading to learn about recurrence and various strategies to reduce the risk of recurrence.
Types of Recurrence
While doctors strive to eliminate all cancer cells during initial treatment, in some cases, cells evade detection and survive. The undetected cells then multiply and become recurrent breast cancer. There are a few different types of recurrence.
Local recurrence occurs when cancer returns to the area where it originally appeared.
Regional recurrence happens when the cancer is found in the lymph nodes near the armpit or collarbone.
Metastatic recurrence refers to breast cancer that’s spread outside the breast area and regional nodes to other parts of the body.
Steps To Reduce the Risk of Recurrence
Although nothing guarantees your cancer won’t return, in most cases, there are steps you can take to minimize your risk of recurrence.
Stick With the Care Plan
First and foremost, adhere to your healthcare team’s recommended follow-up care plan. The best way to find breast cancer recurrence early is by getting regular check-ups with your doctor, which may include mammograms and other recommended diagnostic tests.
Maintain a Healthy Lifestyle
Maintaining a healthy lifestyle can also play a crucial role in reducing the risk of breast cancer recurrence. Studies have shown that regular exercise, maintaining a healthy weight, and following a balanced diet make a breast cancer recurrence less likely.
Make Exercise a Habit
Regular physical activity is beneficial in multiple ways. It can help reduce stress, improve your mood and sleep quality, and help you maintain a healthy weight. In addition, evidence suggests that people who engage in regular physical activity are less likely to experience a recurrence. You don’t have to join a gym or take up running; just try walking every day for half an hour at least three times per week.
Eat Healthy Foods
While maintaining a healthy diet doesn’t guarantee that your cancer won’t recur, there is scientific evidence that certain foods can boost your immune system and improve your overall health. For example, studies show that a Mediterranean diet — which emphasizes healthy fats, whole grains, fruits, vegetables, beans, nuts, and seeds — can help protect against breast cancer risk and recurrence.
Smoking is a known risk factor for breast cancer, and research shows that it also increases the risk of recurrence. If you’re a smoker, quitting can help reduce the risk of developing another primary breast tumor, improve the survival rate after treatment, and reduce complications from surgery or radiation therapy.
The Emotional Impact of Recurrence
The emotional impact of a breast cancer recurrence can be profound. Many survivors feel a sense of loss, grief, and anger. Some feel they’ve been dealt a cruel blow, as if their body has betrayed them.
Support is crucial for survivors dealing with a breast cancer recurrence. Some people find great comfort in talking with others who have been through similar experiences. For example, SurvivingBreastCancer.org’s global online community offers opportunities to connect with others for safe, judgment-free, peer-to-peer support — and ensures you’re never alone.
You may also need professional help to address the psychological impact of recurrence and work through your emotions. Psychologists and other mental health professionals can help survivors manage the anxiety, grief, and depression a recurrence can cause. They can also provide practical strategies to help you cope with stress.
Count On Us for Information, Resources, and Support
Whether you’re newly diagnosed with breast cancer, are navigating survivorship, or are the loved one of someone experiencing breast cancer, you can count on SurvivingBreastCancer.org to keep you informed. We provide educational information to help you better understand symptoms, testing, and treatment options. The Breast Cancer Conversations podcast features professionals, advocates, and caregivers that share valuable information. And our Thursday Night Thrivers meetups offer plenty of opportunities to connect with others who understand what you’re going through.
SBC is here for you!
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