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How to Tell if Your Cancer is Back

It's important for breast cancer survivors to learn the symptoms of recurrence so that they can look for signs that cancer has returned.

According to a study published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, around one in five breast cancer survivors who have had five years of adjuvant therapy (chemotherapy, radiation, etc)  have a recurrence within 10 years of treatment. 

Areas of recurrence
A recurrence of breast cancer can happen in the same place that the disease originally occurred or in other places if the cancer has metastasized. Breastcancer.org states that the most common areas for a possible recurrence of breast cancer include:

          Local recurrence

  • The breast or place where the breast was previously
  • The chest
  • The lymph nodes

          Distant recurrence

  • In the lymph nodes
  • In or on the bones
  • On or near the lungs
  • The liver
  • The brain

Even though the term "breast cancer" makes it seem like this disease can only take place in the breasts, the cancer can spread to other parts of the body. If you had breast cancer previously and have developed cancer in a different area of your body, it is likely to be another growth of the original cancer, not a different kind. 

Signs of recurrence
The first two years after a patient is treated for breast cancer are the most critical time when it comes to cancer recurrence. Your original cancer diagnosis (such as what stage the disease was in) greatly affects the likelihood that the disease will come back. If you experience any of these signs, go to your doctor immediately:

  • A new lump or irregular firmness in the breast
  • Nipple discharge
  • Redness or inflammation of the skin on a previously cancerous breast
  • Nodules on your chest wall
  • Thickening of the skin? on or close to a mastectomy scar

Cancer can also occur in the lymph nodes located in your neck, in the groove along your collarbone or near your collarbone and under your arm. Go to your physician if you have any concerns that your cancer may be recurring in your breast or elsewhere in your body. 

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