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If your cancer comes back after treatment

Men and women discussing breast cancer

This page tells you about what happens if your cancer comes back. 

 

A quick guide to what's on this page

If your cancer comes back after treatment

Many women have no more problems after their original treatment for breast cancer. But sometimes breast cancer comes back.

If the cancer comes back in the same breast it is called local recurrence. It happens if a few cancer cells are left in the area when a breast cancer has been removed. You may notice a small pink or red lump called a nodule in the remaining breast tissue, or in the skin near the breast, or in the scar from the operation. A nodule is usually easy to treat. But it is important to report it to your doctor straight away.

The treatment for a local recurrence depends on the treatment you had initially. If you had just the lump removed (lumpectomy), you will probably need to have the whole breast removed (a mastectomy). If you had a mastectomy, your doctors will treat a recurrence by removing the tumour, if possible. They will then give radiotherapy, unless you already had radiotherapy to that area. In either case, you may have hormone therapy, chemotherapy, biological therapy, or a combination of these, afterwards.

The breast cancer is called a regional recurrence if it comes back in the chest muscles or in the lymph nodes in the chest or neck area. You may have surgery to remove the cancer cells and then radiotherapy or chemotherapy, hormonal therapy or biological therapy.

If the breast cancer has spread to other parts of the body this is called secondary breast cancer or metastatic breast cancer. We have information about treatments for secondary breast cancer.

 

CR PDF Icon You can view and print the quick guides for all the pages in the Treating breast cancer section.

 

 

If breast cancer comes back

Many women have no more problems after their original treatment for breast cancer. But sometimes breast cancer comes back. This can be a shock and we have information about the emotional effects of cancer.

 

Recurrence in the breast

If the breast cancer comes back in the same breast it is called a local recurrence. You may notice a small pink or red lump called a nodule

  • In the breast tissue which remains after breast surgery
  • In the skin near the breast
  • In the scar from the operation

A nodule is often easy to treat. But it is important to report it to your doctor as soon as you notice it. If you don't have treatment it can become sore and the skin may break down after some time.

The treatment for a local recurrence depends on the treatment you had initially

 

Cancer beyond the breast area

The breast cancer is called a regional recurrence if it comes back in any of the following areas

  • The chest (pectoral) muscles
  • The internal mammary lymph nodes under the breastbone and between the ribs
  • The supra clavicular nodes (above the collarbone)
  • The lymph nodes surrounding the neck

A regional recurrence usually means that the cancer has spread past the breast and the axillary (underarm) lymph nodes. You may have surgery to remove the cancer cells and then radiotherapy or chemotherapy, hormonal therapy or biological therapy.

 

If the cancer has spread

If the breast cancer has spread to other parts of the body this is called secondary breast cancer or metastatic breast cancer. We have information about treatments for secondary breast cancer in this section.

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Updated: 2 August 2014