Recurrent breast cancer
Recurrent breast cancer occurs when the disease has returned after treatment. Most recurrent cancers appear within the first two or three years after treatment, but breast cancer can recur many years later. Recurrent breast cancer may come back in the breast, chest wall or in other parts of the body.
Breast cancer that returns locally (i.e., in the area treated with surgery) is called a local recurrence. If the disease appears in another part of the body, it is referred to as metastatic breast cancer or regional reccurrence. Cancer cells may travel away from the original tumor in the breast to other parts of the body through the lymphatic system or bloodstream. Common metastatic areas include the bones, liver and lungs. Even when a metastatic breast tumor spreads to a different part of the body, it contains the same cancerous cells that developed in the breast.
It is important to report new signs or symptoms of breast cancer to your doctor. Symptoms of recurrent breast cancer vary from person to person.
Signs and symptoms of local breast cancer recurrence may include:
- An increase in the size or shape of the breast
- Lumps or nodes felt on or inside the breast
- Skin changes, such as swelling, redness or other visible differences
- Skin inflammation or area of redness
- Nipple discharge other than breast milk
- Irritated or itchy breasts
Signs and symptoms of metastatic breast cancer may include:
- Swelling or lumps in the lymph nodes
- Unexplained pain in other areas of the body, such as the bone
- Difficulty breathing or a persistent cough
- Loss of appetite and/or weight loss
- Intense headaches
According to the Susan G. Komen® organization, women with early breast cancer most often develop local recurrence within the first five years after treatment. On average, 7 to 11 percent of women with early breast cancer experience a local recurrence during this time.
For patients with a family history of cancer or a BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene mutation, the cancer recurrence rate is higher. The risk of finding new cancers, such as ovarian cancer, may also be higher. Cancer recurrence risk is based on many factors, including the cancer type and how it was treated.
It is important to continue performing monthly breast self-exams and seeing your doctor for follow-up visits, so your doctor can examine your breasts, discuss any new symptoms and order lab or imaging tests, if necessary. Continuing routine screenings and annual checkups is important in detecting breast cancer recurrence early.