Dealing With a Recurrence or Second Cancer

Last Modified: March 21, 2013

When the fear of cancer coming back becomes reality, it can bring up many questions and emotions. This may be occur as a recurrence of the first cancer or a new cancer altogether. Can this be treated or cured? Am I up for another battle with cancer? Can my family handle it? Was my treatment a waste of time? What do I do now? You may feel fearful, shocked, angry, overwhelmed and out of control. Turn to those who gave you support during your first battle with cancer. Don't hesitate to seek out help and support- social workers, therapists, support groups (in person and online). Family, friends and clergy can be great sources of support during a second cancer battle. But keep in mind, you have done this before- you know much more now than you did at the time of your original diagnosis. Use that knowledge to guide your treatment decisions and help you put into place the support you need to get through this battle.

A recurrence or second cancer can mean different things to different people- each situation is unique. You may want to start aggressive treatment right away. Perhaps you just aren't sure you want to go through more chemotherapy or surgery. There is no "right" way to respond. Just as the initial treatment decisions are a balance of pros and cons, so are these decisions.

Ask your treating physician to describe all of your options and what treatment he or she recommends and why? How does your previous treatment affect this treatment? With the help of your support people, weigh the pros and cons of your treatment options. Consider your goals and how each treatment will impact them and your quality of life. You may want to consider seeing another physician to get a second opinion. Getting a second opinion does not mean you have to switch doctors; you are just getting input from another perspective. You may also want to research what clinical trials are available to you.

While surgery, chemotherapy or a clinical trial of a new medication may be the best option for some, others may feel that they don't want to pursue aggressive treatments again. And that is okay. It may not be a decision family and friends will understand, but it is the patient's decision to make. Talk with your team about palliative care and hospice options.

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Getting Second Opinions
by Bob Riter
July 24, 2013

From the National Cancer Institute