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Cancer recurrence

It is perfectly understandable that the most common fear is the Cancer becoming active again.

Cancer may come back some time after its initial treatment. This idea can be frightening. There are a number of different explanations for why cancer might come back. But the main reasons are that some cancer cells have been left in the body where the original cancer was or spread to other parts of the body and gradually grown to form a new tumour

It can be extremely difficult to live with the fact that your cancer may come back. Even if your doctors tell you they are 95% certain your cancer has gone for good, you may find it very upsetting that no one can say “Yes, you are cured”. Some people find they cannot stop thinking about having had cancer, even though they expected to put it behind them once their treatment had finished. You may feel a little frightened of planning anything in the future or you may feel sad or depressed.

For most people who are in this situation, each day lowers the risk of a recurrence. Most cancers that are going to come back will do so in the first two years after treatment. After five years you are even less likely to get a recurrence. For some cancers, after 10 years your doctor may say you are cured!

Importantly if you know the signs of recurrence you will understand when it is important to seek help. If you seek help early there is a much greater chance of effective treatment.

As we said above, one of the most common sites of spread is

The Lungs

Cancer that has spread to the lungs may not cause any symptoms or may cause;

  • A cough that doesn’t go away.
  • Shortness of breathe
  • Chest infection
  • A buildup of fluid between the chest wall & the lung called a pleural effusion – this usually presents with shortness of breath.

The Liver

There may be no symptoms or there might be;

  • Lack of energy
  • Feeling generally unwell
  • Feeling sick
  • Lack of appetite
  • Discomfort on the right side under the ribs
  • Jaundice
  • A build -up of fluid in the abdomen (ascites)
  • The Lymph nodes;

Often no symptoms but swollen lymph nodes can block the circulation of tissue ‘lymphatic fluid’ causing swelling in the affected part.

The Bones

Particularly with Prostate, Breast & Lung Cancers.

  • Pain in affected bones
  • Weakness in affected bones
  • Raised calcium levels in the blood. This may cause nausea, constipation, tiredness and/or excessive thirst.

The Brain

Very uncommon but can happen. More likely with lung & breast, less      likely with Kidney, colon & melanoma.

  • Headaches
  • Nausea & vomiting
  • Limb weakness
  • Behavioural changes/mood swings
  • Confusion/fits
  • Dizzy/vertigo
  • Drowsiness

The skin

Skin nodules are rare but can happen anywhere on the skin and on scar lines.


Remember all of these symptoms might occur and be totally unrelated to your cancer. But it is important that if they happen you get them checked out.