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If cancer comes back

Cancer sometimes comes back after treatment. This is called a recurrence. A recurrence can happen weeks, months or even years after your cancer treatment finished.

There are different types of recurrence, based on where the cancer has returned in the body.

Local recurrence is when a new tumour starts to grow in the same place or very near where the cancer started, but it hasn’t spread to other parts of the body.

A regional recurrence is when the cancer has come back in the lymph nodes and tissues in the area around where the cancer started.

A distant recurrence is when the cancer has spread through the blood or lymphatic system to another part of the body, where it grows into a new tumour. The new tumour is called a metastasis, or metastatic cancer.

Sometimes, a new cancer starts in someone who has already been diagnosed with cancer. It is unrelated to the first cancer. This is called a second primary.

Coping when cancer comes back

When you find out that cancer has come back, you may have many of the same emotions that you did when you were first diagnosed. It’s common to feel shock, fear, anger and sadness. Being told your cancer has come back can be just as hard, if not harder, to cope with than when you were first diagnosed.

You may wonder if you have done or not done something to make the cancer come back. Maybe you’re thinking that you didn’t eat well or exercise enough. You may wonder if you made the wrong treatment decision with your first cancer. You may think that all the side effects that you had with treatment were for nothing, because the cancer has come back anyway.

Sometimes, despite our best efforts, cancer comes back. Try not to blame yourself, and focus your energy and strength on what you can do now to move forward.

You’ve faced cancer before. Remember how you coped with the disease the first time. You can use that experience to help you cope with recurrence.