If you have had cancer and have undergone treatment for the same successfully, you might have heard your doctors asking you be extra cautious about some symptoms and signs. The reason behind it is that there is every possibility of cancer coming back after successful treatment. Though it is a frightening fact, it is something that cannot be ruled out.
Why does cancer come back?
Recurrence of cancer could be because of a number of reasons. The main reason could be that some of the cancerous cells are still there in your body, at the same place where you first had cancer. This is called local cancer. Or those cells could have traveled to other parts of the body and then with time, grown into a new tumor. This is known as distant cancer.
If you underwent surgery for cancer, it could so happen that some of the cancer cells could not be completely removed during surgery. Despite surgeons putting in their best efforts to remove the primary cancer entirely, there are chances of this happening, which is why adjuvant therapy after surgery is recommended and carried out by most doctors.
If you have had adjuvant therapies like chemotherapy and radiation after surgery, there are still chances that these therapies have not been able to eliminate every single cancerous cell from your body. There is a limit beyond which these treatments might not be safe for you, because of the side-effects on vital organs in the body. So your doctor cannot continue with these treatments for long. All the therapies are carried out with the aim to decrease the number of cancer cells in the body and whatever few cells remain are hopefully killed by the body’ s defense mechanism or die naturally.
Also, there could be a cell or a group of cancerous cells which broke away from the tumor and spread to any other part of your body. There is no scan developed yet to detect if cells have spread elsewhere from the primary tumor.
This is the reason why after your treatment is over, your doctor may tell you that your cancer is in remission, not cured, which means that your body is free of signs of cancer, though there might be cancer cells in your body even now. It could be many years and you might be living a content life before your cancer comes back.
Coping with cancer coming back
Though the news of recurrence of cancer can be very agonizing, you have to deal with it. You might have many concerns and questions. The uncertainty of your future can be very depressing, too.
You might have heard that it is difficult to treat cancer when it comes back. But you have the right to explore all treatment options and it is very important to stay positive. Progress in cancer research has brought about many advanced treatments which might not have been around when you first had cancer. You may find some options which can help in the treatment of cancer and symptom management.
Local cancer is considered less difficult to treat compared to distant cancer. For local cancer, surgery and radiation are the common treatments. Treatment for distant cancer depends on whether surgery can be conducted to remove the cancer. In such a case, chemotherapy or radiation or biological therapy may help.
Your choice of appropriate treatment will depend on the type of cancer, the treatment you underwent when you first had cancer, the time gap between your first diagnosis and recurrence, location of the cancer, your age and overall health and the extent to which the cancer has spread. You must also consider the side-effects of the treatments. Your doctor may be more informed than you but you are the one who knows most about yourself- your life, your goals, your strengths and your weaknesses. Discuss all this with your cancer team and only then you can arrive at the best possible decision.Read More »