Learn more about the signs and symptoms of cancer recurrence.

What Are the Signs of Cancer Recurrence?

If you’ve successfully completed chemotherapy, radiation, or another cancer treatment, you likely want to breathe a sigh of relief and get back to living a more normal life.

As exciting as remission can be, some cancer survivors experience a recurrence of the disease. The chances of a cancer recurrence depend on the type of cancer you had. And the warning signs of a recurrence may vary by person.

Visit the website for UPMC Hillman Cancer Center to find locations and doctors. 

What Is Cancer Recurrence?

There are three main types of cancer recurrence.

  • A local recurrence means the cancer returns in the same part of the body. For example, a local recurrence of breast cancer occurs in the same breast.
  • A regional recurrence means the cancer has come back in lymph nodes near the area where cancer originally occurred.
  • A distant recurrence means cancer recurs in a new part of the body. The liver, lungs, brain, and bones are the most common sites for a distant recurrence. In the case of breast cancer, a recurrence of that disease in a different body part is still considered to be breast cancer.

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Cancer Recurrence: Warning Signs and Symptoms

The symptoms of a local cancer recurrence are specific to the original cancer. With breast cancer, these warning signs can include a new lump in the breast or changes to the surrounding skin.

If the recurrence is regional, the symptoms might involve a lump where nearby lymph nodes are located, such as the collarbone, neck, or underarm.

Warning signs of a distant recurrence tend to involve a different body part from the original cancer site. For example, if cancer recurs in the lungs, you might experience coughing and difficulty breathing, while a recurrence of cancer in the brain can cause seizures and headaches. Bone pain also can be a symptom of cancer recurrence.

Dealing with Cancer Recurrence

When you’ve had cancer, you should have regular follow-up appointments with your oncology or cancer team.

If you experience worrisome symptoms or notice changes to your health, talk to your doctor as soon as possible.

Because some cancers can become resistant to chemotherapy, you may need to try different treatments. Your doctor will help you choose the best one depending on the type of cancer, when and where it recurs, how much it has spread, and your overall health.