Dr. Ridhima Bindlish

Dr. Ridhima Bindlish

Breast Cancer Surgeon

Blogs | 20-June-2023

Can Breast Cancer Recur After Recovery? What You Need to Know

Can Breast Cancer Recur After Recovery?

Breast cancer is a leading cause of cancer-related deaths among women worldwide. With advancements in medical treatments, many women now achieve remission, but the possibility of recurrence remains a concern.

This article aims to address the concerns of female breast cancer patients and their families by providing comprehensive information on breast cancer recurrence, its risk factors, symptoms, diagnosis, treatments, coping strategies, and prevention.

Breast Cancer Recurrence

Breast cancer recurrence refers to the return of cancer in a patient who has previously achieved remission. Recurrences can be local (in the same area as the original tumour) or distant (spread to other parts of the body).

In this section, we will define breast cancer recurrence and discuss the different types of recurrence.

Local Recurrence

Local recurrence occurs when breast cancer comes back in the same area where the original tumour was located. This can happen months or even years after the initial treatment. Some common symptoms of local recurrence include:

  • A new lump or mass in the breast or chest wall
  • Changes in the skin of the breast, such as redness or thickening
  • Nipple discharge or inversion

Diagnostic methods for detecting local recurrence may include:

  • Physical examination
  • Mammography
  • Ultrasound
  • MRI
  • Biopsy

Treatment options for local recurrence typically depend on the initial treatment received. If a patient had a lumpectomy, a mastectomy may be recommended.

If a mastectomy was initially performed, wide excision can be performed depending on extent of recurrence when feasible. Additional treatments like chemotherapy, radiation therapy, hormone therapy, or targeted therapy may also be considered.

Distant Metastasis

Distant metastasis occurs when breast cancer cells spread to other parts of the body. Common sites for distant metastasis include the bones, lungs, liver, and brain.

Symptoms vary depending on the affected organ but may include:

  • Bone pain
  • Shortness of breath or persistent cough
  • Abdominal pain or swelling
  • Neurological symptoms like headaches or seizures

Diagnostic methods for detecting distant metastasis may include:

  • Blood tests
  • X-rays
  • CT scans
  • PET scans

Treatment options for distant metastasis often involve systemic therapies such as chemotherapy, hormone therapy, targeted therapy, or immunotherapy.

Radiation therapy or surgery may also be used to control symptoms and improve quality of life.

What are risk factors for breast cancer recurrence?

Several factors can influence the risk of breast cancer recurrence. These include:

Tumor characteristics:

  • Size: Larger tumors have a higher risk of recurrence.
  • Stage: Advanced-stage tumors are more likely to recur.
  • Grade: High-grade tumors are more aggressive and have a higher risk of recurrence.
  • Hormone receptor status: Hormone receptor-positive tumors may have a lower risk of recurrence, as they often respond well to hormone therapy.

Treatment modalities:

  • Surgery: Incomplete removal of the tumor or positive surgical margins can increase the risk of local recurrence.
  • Radiation therapy: Inadequate radiation dose or treatment area may lead to recurrence.
  • Chemotherapy: Some tumors may not respond well to chemotherapy, increasing the risk of recurrence.
  • Hormone therapy: Non-adherence to hormone therapy regimens can increase the risk of recurrence.

Patient-related factors:

  • Age: Younger patients may have a higher risk of recurrence.
  • Overall health: Poor overall health as well as obesity can increase the risk of recurrence.
  • Genetic mutations: Patients with certain genetic mutations (e.g., BRCA1 or BRCA2) may have a higher risk of recurrence.

Risk Assessment and Statistics

Understanding the risk of breast cancer recurrence is essential for patients and their families. The risk of recurrence varies depending on the specific characteristics of the tumour and the patient.

Tools such as Oncotype DX and Adjuvant! Online can help predict the likelihood of recurrence based on various factors. According to statistics, the risk of recurrence is higher in patients with larger tumours, higher stage, positive lymph nodes, or aggressive tumour characteristics.

Must Read Also- Breast Cancer Biopsy

What are the symptoms of breast cancer recurrence?

Early detection of breast cancer recurrence is crucial for improving the chances of successful treatment. Some common symptoms of breast cancer recurrence include:

  • New lumps or masses in the breast or armpit
  • Changes in breast shape or size
  • Bone pain or persistent cough


Diagnostic tests and imaging techniques used to detect recurrence include:

  • Mammography
  • Ultrasound
  • MRI
  • PET scans
  • Biopsy

Regular follow-up appointments and surveillance are essential for early detection, as they allow physicians to monitor the patient’s condition and identify any signs of recurrence.

Treatment Options for Recurrent Breast Cancer

Treatment options for recurrent breast cancer depend on factors such as location, extent, previous treatment history, and patient preferences. Some common treatment approaches include:


Surgery may be recommended for local recurrences. The type of surgery will depend on the initial treatment received and the extent of the recurrence. For example, if a lumpectomy was initially performed, a mastectomy may be recommended.

Radiation therapy

Radiation therapy may be used to treat local recurrences, especially after a mastectomy. It can also help control symptoms and improve the quality of life in cases of distant metastasis.


Chemotherapy may be administered to treat recurrent breast cancer, particularly in cases of distant metastasis or aggressive tumour characteristics.

Targeted therapy

Targeted therapies, such as HER2-targeted drugs or CDK4/6 inhibitors, may be used for specific subtypes of recurrent breast cancer.

Hormone therapy

Hormone therapy may be prescribed for hormone receptor-positive recurrent breast cancer to block the effects of estrogen or progesterone on cancer cells.

Clinical trials and emerging therapies

Patients with recurrent breast cancer may consider participating in clinical trials to access new and experimental treatments that are not yet widely available.

Also, Read- Treatment for Stage 1 Breast Cancer

Coping with Recurrence and Supportive Care

Dealing with the possibility of recurrence can be emotionally challenging for patients and their families. Support networks, counseling, and survivorship programs can help patients cope with the emotional and psychological impact of recurrence.

Some coping strategies include:

  • Joining support groups to connect with others facing similar challenges
  • Seeking professional counseling or therapy
  • Practicing stress reduction techniques, such as meditation or yoga
  • Focusing on activities that bring joy and relaxation

Prevention and Lifestyle Factors

Adopting a healthy lifestyle may reduce the risk of breast cancer recurrence and improve overall well-being. Some recommended lifestyle modifications include:

  • Regular exercise: Aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic activity per week.

  • Healthy diet: Eat a balanced diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and healthy fats.
  • Weight management: Maintain a healthy weight to reduce the risk of recurrence.
  • Adherence to prescribed medications: Follow your healthcare provider’s recommendations regarding hormone therapy or other prescribed medications.
  • Minimizing alcohol consumption: Limit alcohol intake to no more than one drink per day for women.
  • Avoiding tobacco: Refrain from smoking or using tobacco products.


Breast cancer recurrence after recovery is a genuine concern for many patients and their families. By understanding the risk factors, symptoms, diagnosis, treatment options, coping mechanisms, and prevention strategies, patients can better manage their health and navigate the challenges associated with breast cancer recurrence.

Regular follow-up book an appointment and communication with healthcare providers are essential in ensuring the best possible outcomes and maintaining a hopeful future.