Recurrent Breast Cancer: A common healthcare hindsight
While breast cancer is one of the very few forms of cancer that has a higher survival rate than most, there is always a chance that it might return, even after completion of treatment and a clear diagnosis. Approximately 7-11% of women who have recovered from breast cancer have a chance of recurrence after months or years of initial treatment.
Recurrent breast cancer is not uncommon, unlike the thoughts of many survivors. This is usually more frequent in families with a history of cancer, or with a gene mutation of BRCA1 or BRCA2. Distinctively, this recurrence might be local (occuring in the same part) or in a different part of the body, for example, brain cancer.
Symptoms & Diagnosis of Local Recurrent Breast Cancer
Local breast cancer recurrence usually comes with the following symptoms:
- Frequent nipple discharge
- New lump/irregular area of firmness
- Color changes in the breast area skin
- Thickening in the mastectomy scar (in case of a mastectomy from prior treatment)
Diagnosis of local recurrent breast cancer is usually conducted with a mammogram, especially if you had a prior lumpectomy and are experiencing a new lump in the present. Furthermore, physicians also suggest ultrasound, MRI, or PET scan if the results of the mammogram are not clear. Once recurrences are detected, your doctor conducts a biopsy of the lump.
Symptoms of Distance Recurrent Breast Cancer
As mentioned briefly above, distance recurrence implies that the cancer has recurred in a different part of the body, most commonly brain cancer, bone cancer, or cancer in the lungs or liver.
- Persistent pain in the chest, abdomen, back or hip that worsens over time.
- Coughing or difficult breathing
- Appetite loss
- Weight loss
- Headaches & Seizures
Metastatic or distant recurrence breast cancer is detected by common diagnostic tests such as blood tests, X-ray, MRIs, CT scans, PET scans, and bone scans, followed by a biopsy.
Treatment plans for local & distance breast cancer recurrence
- Local recurrence treatment
If one has been treated with lumpectomy followed by radiation in the first occurence of cancer, they cannot be subjected to radiation again. In such cases, mastectomy is recommended. In case radiation was not performed previously, another lumpectomy with radiation is the standard treatment. Depending on the stage/prognosis, hormonal therapy or chemotherapy may be subjected to the patient following surgery.
- Distance recurrence treatment
This form of cancer is not entirely curable and hence is treated solely to control the cancer and stop its progression. Various treatment plans are recommended to extend the patient’s life and improve life quality. Few of these treatment plans are: Chemotherapy or hormonal therapy, radiation therapy, biologically targeted therapy, or with small molecule inhibitors
Please note that breast cancer recurrence, although is of a high concern, has very high survival rates and can be effectively treated most of the time. Consult your doctor immediately upon noticing any symptoms, however small they might be.