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Recurrent Breast Cancer  

Recurrent breast cancer is a very frustrating and potentially dangerous form of breast cancer.  Very simply it is breast cancer which returns at some point following initial treatment.  Even though the ultimate goal of most therapy is to remove all of the cancerous tissues and cells, a few cancer cells may remain and sometimes that is enough to develop into recurrent breast cancer. 

This type of breast cancer may develop months or even years after the initial treatment.  It may develop as a local recurrence where a tumor develops back in the original spot.  Or it can spread to other parts of the body.  This is known as a distant recurrence. 

The symptoms for recurrent breast cancer can vary widely depending on their severity and whether they are a local, regional or distance recurrence. 

If it is a local recurrence then the cancer has reappeared in the same area where it originally developed.  So some signs or symptoms to look for may include a new lump in your breast or an irregular area of flatness; newly thickened area in the breast; some dimpling or pulling back at the site of the lumpectomy; skin irritation and redness; nipple changes such as a flattening or indentation of the nipple. 

A regional recurrence is defined as a return of cancer to lymph nodes in your back or collarbone area.  So some symptoms associated with this type of recurrence include a lump or swelling in the lymph nodes in these areas; swelling of the arm; constant and persistent pain in the arm; or an increased loss of sensation in the arm or hand. 

A distant recurrence is understood to mean that the cancer has returned to distant parts of the body such as the bones, liver or lungs.  Symptoms to look for can include pain in the bones; a persistent dry cough; problems with breathing; a loss of appetite; nausea or vomiting; unexplained weight loss; persistent headaches; fever or chills. 

Although any cancer patient should visit their doctor regularly, it is important to pay attention to any changes and have them studied further.  

There are a number of important factors which may influence the recurrence of breast cancer either locally, regionally or distant.  If the original cancer was found in lymph nodes nearby there is a higher risk of the cancer returning.  And women who had larger tumor sizes (over 5cm) were at greater risk for developing cancer again later on. 

During surgical removal of a tumor, surgeons also remove an extra margin of tissue which appears cancer free.  If that tissue margin shows to be completely free of cancer cells during a pathology exam then the risk of cancer returning is low.  But if some cancerous cells are found in the margin tissue then the risk increases. 

If a woman chooses to undergo a lumpectomy instead of a mastectomy but does not receive follow on radiation treatment, the risk of recurrent breast cancer rises. 

For course of treatment for recurrent breast cancer is largely dependent on whether it is local, regional or distant.  If the cancer is local then in most cases a mastectomy is the customary course of action.  This may be followed up with chemotherapy or radiation therapy depending on the specific circumstances. 

Surgery is the usual course of action for a regional recurrence.  If this is not feasible then radiation therapy is usually the most viable alternative.  Chemotherapy or hormone therapy may be used as well. 

And in the case of metastatic or distant recurrence, the treatment options are usually different than the other types.  The goal here is not to necessarily try to cure the disease but rather to control it so that the patient can live as long as possible with as few complications as possible.  A variety of treatments including radiati