Breast Cancer Recurrence: What You Should Know


Elyse Caplan remembers it well, that first conversation with her oncologist. She had just been diagnosed with stage IIB hair. How am I going to tell my boss, my kids?’ You don’t hear much after that.”

Yet the risk of breast tumors for 70 cancer-related genes.

“We can pretty precisely predict 10-year probability of recurrence with gene profiles,” Pegram tells WebMD. “These tests have revolutionized treatment planning for breast cancer patients.”

Specific genes in the cancer cells tell oncologists how the tumor will grow, how likely the cancer is to recur, and generally how the tumor will behave. With this information, oncologists can shape treatment — whether Femara, NSAIDs) can help control the pain.

It’s not always side effects that prompt women to quit treatment, Vogel adds. For some women, it’s a false sense of confidence. “When women don’t have bad side effects, they’re feeling fine, and start thinking, ‘Do I really have to worry about breast cancer?'” he tells WebMD. “They don’t see the need to continue treatments.”

Even women with “good prognosis” cancers have a slight risk of recurrence, Vogel says. “Others may have a higher likelihood of recurrence, but even the best-prognosis patients have the risk. You will have a significantly less chance of recurrence if you don’t stop the treatment. That’s what gives us all hope — and why we convince our patients to stay on their prescribed treatment.”

Lifestyle Changes to Improve Your Chances

Taking your medication every day is an important step in reducing risk. If you have trouble remembering, set up reminders and a routine, doctors advise. Place sticky notes at strategic spots. Take your pills at the same time every day (like skin — or a distant metastasis in the bones, nipple discharge

  • Swollen lymph glands
  • Unexplained bone pain or tenderness that does not go away. “We all have aches and pains, but it’s not everyday aches and pains I’m talking about,” Pegram says. “This is unrelenting pain that keeps you awake at night, that doesn’t respond to analgesics [pain medications], that is in the spine, skull, or ribs.”
  • abdominal pain, weight loss, uterine bleeding
  • Don’t Over-Think It

    Your emotional well-being deserves top priority during this time. Finding activities you enjoy can boost your mood and your self-confidence, and reduce stress. If you exercise, you will get fitter and stronger — plus reduce fatigue.

    “Don’t worry incessantly,” Pegram says. “It takes some judgment and tincture of time to sort these things out, to know what’s a symptom of recurrence and what is not.”

    Vogel is optimistic. “Most people are going to do OK with breast cancer. They get mammograms, get an early diagnosis, then follow their doctor’s advice on treatment. Most people are going to do fine, most won’t die of breast cancer. Remember, breast cancer mortality rates have been steadily going down for the last decade — steadily.”