Living with cancer blog

What you can do if cancer returns

By Sheryl M. Ness, R.N. September 15, 2012

Having cancer once is enough, but cancer can return a second and third time, and even become a chronic condition that never goes away completely.

Recurrent cancer is usually the same cancer type. For example, if you had colon cancer originally, it can return in the liver, but it's still colon cancer, but with liver metastasis.

Rarely, a person can develop a new cancer type that isn't related to their first cancer. This is called a second primary cancer.

When cancer returns, it may be difficult to cure, but it can often be kept under control with treatment.

Treatment for recurrent cancer can include some of the same strategies as the first time around, or your oncologist may recommend a totally different strategy, such as a new combination of chemotherapy or biological therapy, radiation and/or surgery.

Cancer cells can become resistant and not respond the same way to treatment. You may have choices that include clinical trials which would give you access to new treatment options that are being studied for your cancer type.

A few things to consider if your cancer returns:

  • Discuss your treatment plan with your oncologist — what are your goals?
  • Consider a second opinion if the treatment options presented to you are limited.
  • Explore clinical trials as an option for treatment (resource —
  • Discuss how treatment will affect your quality of life. What are the short- and long-term side effects?
  • Communicate with your family and friends — be open and honest about your situation.

It's not easy to deal with cancer when it returns, so you may find that you need support from those around you more than ever. Taking action to treat the cancer will help you feel a sense of control. Be proactive with your emotional needs along the way. Talk with others who have experienced a similar situation and seek support from your friends and family.

Feel free to share your personal experiences with cancer recurrence on the blog.


Sheryl M. Ness, R.N.

Sept. 15, 2012