The one thing patients who have had treatment for breast cancer fear the most is that the cancer may come back. This is also known as cancer recurrence. In this solo episode, I talk about all things related to recurrence, what to look out for, the possible signs and symptoms and the possible treatment options.
Treatment for breast cancer, not only removes the cancer, but it is also aimed to minimise the risk of cancer coming back. So, surgery, chemotherapy, radiotherapy, endocrine treatment are all recommended with this single aim in mind. Immunotherapy such Herceptin for Her2 positive cancers, as well as biphosphonates are also known to reduce cancer risk.
What is really exciting is the evidence pointing towards lifestyle changes that has positive impact on cancer recurrence. These activities include exercise, maintaining a healthy weight, good nutrition and reducing alcohol intake.
The three types of recurrences include:
- Local recurrence
- Regional recurrence
- Distant recurrence
The 5 things to look out for / red flag symptoms would include:
- Bone pain that can either be a dull ache or sharp pain that isn’t going away and with no history of trauma.
- Liver symptoms could include a sensation of bloating, abdominal pain or discomfort especially in the upper right hand side, fatigue, swelling of the abdomen and loss of appetite.
- Lung symptoms may be a non-productive cough, sharp pain when breathing, shortness of breath.
- Brain symptoms may include dizziness, unsteady on feet, nausea, mood swings, fatigue, vomiting and visual disturbances.
- Spinal cord compression is a rare red flag symptom but one that needs urgent attention. The symptoms include severe lower back pain that doesn’t go away, numbness or electrical shock sensation, pins and needles down the arm or leg. Weakness, difficulty using arms or legs and numbness in the area around the back passage , inability to empty the bowel or bladder and problems controlling the battle bladder. If you get any of these symptoms you need to get urgent medical attention.
Below are great infographics from Jo Taylor from ABCDiagnosis and MetUp.Org. Here you can see the different possible sites where breast cancer can spread. It is also important to realise that different types of breast cancer (invasive ductal versus invasive lobular cancer) have a tendency to spread in a slightly different way to each other, as you can see below.
The treatment options vary as well depending on the type of recurrence you have. Surgery, chemotherapy, radiotherapy and endocrine therapy are all used in treating recurrences.
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If you want to learn more about metastatic breast cancer, check out this podcast episode here. In this episode, my guest is Jo Taylor from ABCDiagnosis who talked frankly about what it is like living with metastatic breast cancer and her work as a patient advocate.
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