Signs and symptoms of recurrent breast cancer vary depending on where the cancer comes back. It may show up as a lump in the breast, thickening of the surgical scar or a lump on the chest wall after a mastectomy. It may be detected in an abnormal finding on a mammogram of the breast where you had a lump removed (lumpectomy) earlier, or it may show up in a distant place in your body such as a bone, your liver or your lungs.

Local recurrence

In a local recurrence, cancer reappears in the same area as your original, or "primary," tumor. This could be in the remaining breast in women who've had a lumpectomy, or it may be in the chest wall or skin in women who've had a mastectomy.

Signs and symptoms of local recurrence within the same breast may include:

  • A new lump in your breast or irregular area of firmness
  • A new thickening in your breast area
  • A new pulling back of the skin or dimpling at the lumpectomy site
  • Skin inflammation or area of redness
  • Flattening or indentation of your nipple or other nipple changes

Signs and symptoms of local recurrence on the chest wall after a mastectomy may include:

  • One or more painless nodules on or under the skin of your chest wall
  • A new area of thickening along or near the mastectomy scar

Regional recurrence

A regional breast cancer recurrence means the cancer has come back in the lymph nodes in your armpit or collarbone area. Signs and symptoms of regional recurrence may include:

  • A lump or swelling in the lymph nodes under your arm or in the groove above your collarbone
  • Swelling of your arm
  • Persistent pain in your arm and shoulder
  • Increasing loss of sensation in your arm and hand

Distant (metastatic) recurrence

A distant, or metastatic, recurrence means the cancer has traveled to distant parts of the body, most commonly the bones, liver and lungs. The signs and symptoms may include:

  • Pain, such as chest or bone pain
  • Persistent, dry cough
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Loss of appetite
  • Persistent nausea, vomiting or weight loss
  • Severe headaches
  • Fever
  • Chills

When to see a doctor

After you've been treated for breast cancer, you should continue to see your doctor regularly for follow-up exams. Your doctor will check for any signs of cancer recurrence. You'll also need an annual mammogram if you had a lumpectomy. Still, many women discover recurrent breast cancer on their own. You know your body best — what feels normal and what doesn't. Check your breasts or chest wall after mastectomy every month to look for changes.

It's important to be aware of the signs and symptoms of recurrent breast cancer, such as:

  • New pain
  • Changes or new lumps in your breast or surgical scar or chest wall
  • Weight loss
  • Shortness of breath

If you experience any signs and symptoms that might suggest a recurrence, talk to your doctor.

May. 24, 2011