What if the cancer comes back?

Many cancers that affect young people can be treated successfully. Treatment for cancer aims to remove or destroy all the cancer cells. But sometimes cancers can come back. 

Why do cancers come back? 

Sometimes after treatment, tiny cancer cells may still be in the body. Over time, they may start to divide and grow again to form a cancer. This means cancer can come back (recur). Sometimes this can happen many years later.  

A cancer that comes back is called a recurrent cancer, also called a 'relapse'. Sometimes, cancer can come back in the same area of the body. This is called a local recurrence. Or it can come back in a different area of the body. This is called secondary cancer or metastasis.  

If cancer comes back, it can often be treated again. You may be able to have treatment to try to get rid of the cancer again. Or you might have treatment to control the cancer.  

Most people have follow-up appointments with their cancer doctor for months or years after treatment. These appointments may include tests and scans. If the cancer does come back, tests and scans may help find it early. Some cancer types have a higher risk of coming back. Your doctor will talk to you about your risk of the cancer coming back. If you are worried about any symptoms between appointments, speak to your doctor or nurse. 

Hearing the news 

When you hear that a cancer has come back, it can be hard to accept. You may find you can’t think clearly, or your mind might go blank. It can be very scary, and some people find it harder to cope with than when they were first diagnosed. Others find it less scary the second time, because they know what to expect from hospital and treatment. 

Everyone has their way of coping, but it is important to talk to someone about [how you are feeling]. You might want to talk to someone close to you, but you may be worried about upsetting them. Try to be honest about how you are feeling, so you can get the right support.  

You might find it easier to talk to a doctor, nurse or counsellor. 

Based on content originally produced by Macmillan Cancer Support.