Recurrent Breast Cancer

Recurrent breast cancer describes breast cancer that returns after treatment. Local recurrence is when breast cancer recurs in the same area as the original breast cancer. Regional recurrence is defined as recurrence in the nearby lymph nodes. Distant recurrence is cancer that recurs at distant sites, most commonly the bones, liver, lungs, or brain.

Recurrence can happen if some cancer cells evade the initial treatments. This does not mean the cancer was treated insufficiently, but rather that some cancer cells survived the treatment and developed into detectable tumors over time. 

When a cancer spreads or worsens, it is called cancer progression. It may be difficult to determine the difference between cancer progression and cancer recurrence. Typically, if a patient appears to be cancer-free at the end of treatment, and the disease reappears after having no signs for a year, it is considered a recurrence. If the tumor grows while on treatment or never completely disappears and grows again after treatment, it is called progressive disease.

Similar to a primary cancer, treatments for a recurrent cancer can be used to control and eliminate cancer as well as manage pain and side effects. The treatment selected is dependent on a number of factors, including the location of recurrence, timing of recurrence, extent that the cancer has spread, and overall patient condition.