Warning Signs of Breast Cancer Recurrence

Breast cancer survivors who are in remission are often still worried about the breast cancer returning. To recognize a recurrence of breast cancer, it is important to understand your personal risk that cancer may return, as well as keeping an eye out for additional warning signs.

Understand Your Personal Risk of Breast Cancer Recurrence

The risk of breast cancer recurrence continues even after five years of therapy. The risk of breast cancer recurrence is unique to each individual and is based in part on the type of cancer that was originally diagnosed. For example, the risk of recurrence associated with estrogen receptor-positive breast cancer differs from that of estrogen receptor-negative breast cancer. In addition, certain molecular characteristics of the tumor also contribute to an individual’s risk of breast cancer recurrence.

How Do You Know if Breast Cancer Has Returned?

Breast cancer recurrence can cause various symptoms depending on where the cancer has returned. Breast cancer can return to the same local area of the breast or to a completely different, more distant, part of the body such as the bones.

Symptoms of Local Recurrence

When breast cancer recurs locally, it means that it has returned to the same breast in which it was diagnosed. Symptoms associated with local breast cancer recurrence include:

  • Redness and/or swelling of the skin of the breast
  • Thickening of the scar that was not previously there
  • A new lump in the breast
  • New swelling at a lumpectomy location
  • Noticeable changes to the shape of your nipple or discharge from the nipple

Symptoms of Regional Recurrence

Breast cancer that returns regionally means that cancer has returned in either the lymph nodes, the armpit, or near the collarbone on the side of the body where the tumor was originally diagnosed. Symptoms associated with regional breast cancer recurrence include:

  • Swelling or a lump in the underarm, the collarbone, the neck, close to the breastbone, or in the lymph nodes
  • Pain or a loss of feeling in the arm and the shoulder where the breast tumor was initially diagnosed
  • Loss of appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Chest pain that persists

Symptoms of Distant Recurrence

Distant recurrence occurs when breast cancer returns in areas further away from the initial site, such as the bones, the lungs, or the brain. Symptoms associated with distant breast cancer recurrence include:

  • A cough that does not go away
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Weight loss
  • Severe headaches
  • Chest pain that persists or worsens
  • Seizures
  • Loss of appetite

What to do If You Notice Signs of Recurrence

According to the American Society of Clinical Oncology, follow-up care is an important aspect of maintaining good health in individuals who have been treated for breast cancer. Regular physical examinations allow your doctor to monitor your health and to check for signs of breast cancer recurrence.

It’s important to discuss your risk of breast cancer returning with your physician. Symptoms of breast cancer recurrence are often noticed by individuals in between their regularly scheduled appointments through daily monitoring. If you notice any signs or symptoms of recurrence, tell your doctor. Your healthcare provider will assess the symptoms and