Recurrent Breast Cancer

What is Recurrent Breast Cancer?

Recurrent Breast Cancer is the reappearance of breast cancer after completing preliminary treatments. It most often occurs within two years of the first diagnosis, but it can happen at any time. The chances of recurrence go down with each passing year, but it is always a possibility.

Cancerous cells can be missed, and radiation, chemotherapy and other treatment methods are not always successful.Remaining cells can grow, spread and recur at any time and in any area of the body. They can also remain dormant for many years. Treatment options are available along with methods to lower the risk of subsequent recurrence.

What are the Symptoms of Recurrent Breast Cancer?

The symptoms of recurrent breast cancer vary according to location. It can be local, meaning it recurred in the original area, regional (in nearby lymph nodes) or distant (metastatic). Metastatic recurrent breast cancer most often reappears in the liver, lungs and/or bones.

The symptoms of local recurrent breast cancer may include:

  • Breast lump or thickened skin
  • Unusual skin changes
  • Redness and/or swelling
  • Nipple excretion
  • Changes in mastectomy scar
  • Painless lump(s) in the mastectomy area

The symptoms of regional recurrent breast cancer may include swollen and/or painful lymph nodes that may be:

  • Beneath an arm
  • Near the collarbone
  • In the neck

The symptoms of metastatic recurrent breast cancer may include:

  • Persistent bone pain
  • Ongoing chest pain
  • Nagging cough
  • Appetite loss
  • Head pain
  • Seizures

Recurrent Breast Cancer Causes

Recurrent breast cancer happens when cancer cells break away from the original breast tumor and hide in another part of the body. Usually the part is nearby. At some point in the future, the cancerous cells start reproducing again. What triggers them to do so is not completely understood.

The following is a list of risk factors for breast cancer survivors. These factors include:

  • Cancer cells being present in the lymph nodes at the time of the original breast cancer diagnosis
  • Having had larger tumors at the time of diagnosis
  • Having had close or positive margins when the tumor was removed
  • Not undergoing radiation treatment following the surgery to remove the tumors
  • Being under the age of 35 at the time of diagnosis
  • Having had inflammatory breast cancer

While breast cancer, the condition that can lead to recurrent breast cancer, is known to affect women, there are a few cases that affect men. This means that recurrent breast cancer can sometimes affect men who have been affected by breast cancer.

How is Recurrent Breast Cancer Treated?

After a diagnosis of recurrent breast cancer is confirmed through imaging and tissue biopsies, treatment will depend on many factors including the location of cancerous cells.

Treatment for local recurrent breast cancer may include:

  • Mastectomy
  • Lymph node removal
  • Chemotherapy
  • Radiation
  • Hormone therapy

Treatment for regional recurrent breast cancer may include:

  • Surgical removal of cancerous tissue
  • Surgical removal of lymph nodes
  • Radiation
  • Chemotherapy
  • Targeted therapy
  • Hormone therapy

Treatment for metastatic recurrent breast cancer depends on the new location of the cancer as well as many other factors. The objective is to prolong life while easing cancer and treatment symptoms. The treatment plan may include:

  • Surgery
  • Targeted therapy
  • Hormone therapy
  • Radiation
  • Chemotherapy
  • Strength-building bone medications

No matter the type of recurrent breast cancer, it is of the utmost importance to find sources of support. Family, friends, support groups and faith can help to build and maintain emotional strength.

Recurrent Breast Cancer Prevention

Some cases of recurrent breast cancer are easier to prevent than others. Efforts to stop it are usually combined with treatment of the original cancer or immediately follow treatment.

These efforts include:

  • Hormone therapy (for those who have been diagnosed with the hormone receptor positive for breast cancer) following the initial cancer treatments
  • Chemotherapy as part of the original cancer treatments
  • Radiation therapy as part of the original cancer treatments
  • Other targeted therapies like the medicine trastuzmab for the forms of breast cancer that create extra proteins in the body

Simple lifestyle changes can also aid in preventing recurrent breast cancer. If you do not already know how to do so, then learning how to maintain a healthy weight through diet and exercise will put you on the path to a healthy lifestyle and help lower your overall risk of having this serious health condition.

Last Reviewed:
October 09, 2016
Last Updated:
December 06, 2017