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Patient Education

How To Deal With Cancer Relapse
How To Deal With Cancer Relapse

The journey through cancer is a deeply personal one, punctuated by triumphs and trials. A significant trial that some individuals encounter is the return of cancer, commonly referred to as cancer relapse. Tackling this formidable hurdle demands a harmony of effective medical care, emotional fortitude, and nurturing support, all of which are readily available at OncoCare.

Understanding Cancer Relapse

Cancer relapse, also known as cancer recurrence, is the return of cancer after a period of improvement or remission. It means that, despite initial successful treatments, some cancer cells have survived and grown, manifesting themselves again.

It’s hard to say how long before cancer relapses. The timeframe for a cancer recurrence can vary greatly and depends on several factors, including the type of cancer, the stage at which it was initially diagnosed, the treatment received, and individual patient characteristics. Some cancers may recur within a few months, while others may not recur for several years.

Why Does Cancer Relapse Occur?

Cancer relapse typically happens when some cancer cells resist the initial treatments and lie dormant in the body. They can eventually multiply, causing cancer to return. It can reappear in the same place as the original tumour, known as local recurrence. Alternatively, it can come back in different parts of the body, referred to as distant recurrence or metastasis.

Several factors contribute to the likelihood of a relapse. The type and stage of the original cancer, the extent of the initial treatment, individual health factors, and even genetic predisposition can all influence the chances of a recurrence. Approximately the rate of early breast cancer cases that encounter high recurring risks is 30% to 40% as evidenced in a report by Straits Times. On the other hand, 20% to 30% of men diagnosed with prostate cancer are likely to face a relapse, according to John Hopkins Medicine.

Where Can Cancer Relapse Occur?

Cancer relapse can manifest in various ways, depending on the type of cancer and its progression. It may recur locally, in the same area where it originally developed, or it may metastasise, spreading to other regions of the body.

In the context of localised recurrence, the cancer cells re-emerge at the original site. For example, if the initial cancer was in the breast, a local recurrence would mean the cancer cells are growing again in the same breast or the surrounding tissue, such as lymph nodes. On the other hand, metastatic recurrence indicates that the cancer cells have travelled through the lymphatic system or bloodstream and formed new tumours in other organs or tissues.

Additionally, it’s important to note that the site of recurrence can also depend on the characteristics of the original cancer, including its type, stage, and the effectiveness of the initial treatment. Some cancers are more likely to recur locally, while others have a higher propensity to metastasise. For example, statistics show that breast cancer is more likely to metastasise than others due to their biological characteristics and the environment in which they grow. It can metastasise to several places in the body, most commonly to the bones, lungs, liver, and brain, as found by the National Cancer Institute.

Dealing with Cancer Relapse

If you experience symptoms that make you suspect a cancer relapse, it’s crucial to reach out to your healthcare team promptly. Early detection is vital in managing cancer recurrence, and at OncoCare, we deliver comprehensive cancer care, offering a vast array of services.

We provide rapid access to high-quality diagnostic scans to detect and confirm a cancer relapse, including MRI imaging and PET-CT scans, which ensure accurate and timely diagnosis. Our cancer relapse treatment is individualised, taking into account factors like cancer type, stage, location, patient’s health, and prior treatments. Our range of services and treatment options include:

  • Surgery: If the cancer recurrence is localised and the patient is in good overall health, surgery may be used to remove the recurrent tumour. Sometimes, surgery may be followed by radiation therapy or chemotherapy to eliminate any remaining cancer cells.
  • Chemotherapy: This is a systemic treatment that uses drugs to destroy cancer cells throughout the body. Chemotherapy can be used if the cancer has spread to multiple locations.
  • Radiation Therapy: This treatment uses high-energy radiation to kill cancer cells or prevent them from growing. Radiation therapy can be used for local recurrences.

Other therapies, such as targeted therapy or immunotherapy, can be employed based on the specific characteristics of the cancer. Hormone therapy may be used for hormone-sensitive cancers like certain breast and prostate cancers.

Relapses can be emotionally taxing, and it’s crucial to have a strong support system during this time. It’s perfectly normal to feel a range of emotions – from disbelief and anger to sadness and fear. Our oncology consultants based in Singapore are committed not only to providing medical care but also to supporting your emotional and psychological well-being.

OncoCare: Your Partner in Recurrence Management

Cancer relapse can be a difficult and challenging time, but remember that it’s a setback, not the end. With advancements in oncology, many relapses can be treated effectively, and life can still be enjoyed to its fullest.

At OncoCare, our approach to cancer care goes beyond battling the disease. We aim for holistic care, addressing your physical, emotional and psychosocial needs. Our team of cancer specialists in Singapore are dedicated to helping you navigate this phase of your journey, and together, we’ll face any challenges that come our way. Reach out to us today to learn how we can support you in your recovery journey.

“Expert knowledge means better care for cancer”

Written by:

Dr Kevin Tay

MBBS (Singapore)

ABIM Int Med (USA)

ABIM Med Onco (USA)

FAMS (Med Onco)

Senior Medical Oncologist