Tips in a Minute: Coping with Fear of Recurrence

OncoLink Team
Last Modified: April 9, 2014

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OncoLink Tip in a Minute

What is a recurrence?

  • A recurrence is a return or relapse of your cancer in the original location or somewhere else in the body (called metastasis).
  • It is also possible to have a new, unrelated cancer diagnosed in another part of the body.

Why does recurrence happen?

  • The goal of cancer therapy is to remove or kill (through radiation or chemotherapy) all the cancer cells in the body.
  • Unfortunately, we cannot detect all the cells with today's tests, and some cells may be left behind and resurface later as a recurrence or metastasis.

What can I do to reduce the risk of recurrence?

  • Be aware of your body and report any new symptoms.
  • Eat a healthy diet.
  • Get enough rest.
  • Exercise regularly.
  • Communicate regularly with your medical team and keep your follow up appointments.
  • Take prescribed medications and get all scheduled labs and scans – even if you feel fine!

What should I ask my healthcare team about the possibility of recurrence?

  • How likely is it for this cancer to come back?
  • When is it most likely to come back?
  • Where would it most likely come back?
  • Is there anything I can do to keep it from coming back?
  • What symptoms should I look for and report?

What can I do to balance my fear of recurrence and my desire to have a "normal" life?

  • Some degree of worry, nervousness and anxiety is normal.
    • If these feelings start to interfere with your daily life or coming to appointments, it's time to talk to your healthcare team.
  • Remember, you have gotten through cancer treatment; take inventory of the coping skills that got you through it and use them after treatment as well. Ask for help from your support community when you need it.
  • Be aware of triggers for anxiety related to your cancer experience, including the anniversary of your diagnosis or completion of treatment, upcoming scans or blood tests and scheduled appointments. Pull out the things that help you de-stress during these times.
  • Explore deep breathing techniques, journaling, mediation and mindfulness as ways to help manage your thoughts and concerns.
  • Continue to live your life: go to work, engage with your family and friends, try a new hobby, or perhaps give back to the cancer care community by being a buddy or peer support.
  • Seek out help and support from family, friends, clergy, support groups, social workers.
  • Use complimentary therapies, such as yoga and massage, to help manage stress.

For more information about coping with fear of recurrence:


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