Breast Cancer Recurrence Explained

Can Breast Cancer Recurrence Happen Elsewhere in the Body?

Breast RecurrenceBreast cancer patients often worry about the recurrence of breast cancer. But, many wonder if it is possible for breast cancer to recur elsewhere in the body.

According to Breast Cancer Answers Medical Director Dr. Jay Harness, it’s possible for breast cancer recurrence to happen elsewhere in the body. The medical term for this is called a systemic failure.

Breast Cancer patients that have systemic failures are usually those with Stage 4 breast cancer. The good news is, majority of these cancer cells don’t do anything bad.

The danger is in the few cancer cells that grow. The growth of these cancer cells may present themselves in places other than the breast like the liver, lung, bone and brain.

Find out more about breast cancer recurrence by watching the video below.

Jay K. Harness:  I am often asked by patients, can my cancer reoccur and the answer is, yes it can and let me explain.

What is a reoccurrence of breast cancer?  Well, the reoccurrence can occur fundamentally in two occasions, one within the treated breast if a patient has had a lumpectomy or it can reoccur elsewhere in the body.  Reoccurring elsewhere in the body is called a systemic failure meaning it has gone elsewhere within the body, that patient is now stage 4 when it reoccurs elsewhere in the body and people say to me, well how does that happen and again because you shed off cancer cells that we know that, that goes on for months and months before you ever meet people like me.

The good news is the majority of those cancer cells don’t do anything bad but it is the few that can, like throwing the grass seed out of the window and few of them may grow that we worry about and if they do and present themselves in liver, lung, bone, brain, places like that, that is called a systemic failure or another medical term is distant recurrence where it is elsewhere within the body and the treatment of that has already been discussed and I will not repeat it but then it becomes a question of what about a local recurrence and typically a local recurrence is in somebody who has had a lumpectomy or potentially a local recurrence can also be if somebody has had a mastectomy and then the cancer has grown back at the mastectomy site and people ask me, how in the world is that possible, Dr. Harness.

Well, these circulating tumor cells can almost be like homing pigeons and whether some signs now showing that they may have a tendency to want to come back to where they were originally as they circulate around the body and we have certain very aggressive forms of breast cancer that have a real tendency even after mastectomy to want to locally recur at the mastectomy site or within the breast and then with that kind of recurrence, either at the mastectomy site or here in the chest wall or within the breast, typically then if we did not do it before, we would add more surgery, we would add radiation therapy, probably chemotherapy etc.

A great worry about in-breast recurrence or a recurrence locally is that it may be a little flag waving around saying it is now going to occur elsewhere in the body and so, we take recurrence of breast cancer very seriously, when you come and visit people like me on a regular basis who are looking for recurrence, when you get your mammograms every year, we are looking for the potential recurrence at the site and your medical oncologist has ways of looking for recurrence elsewhere in the body.