Fear of Recurrence

Last Modified: July 8, 2010


Dear OncoLink "Ask The Experts,"

I am finished with treatment and currently cancer-free. Yet I am fearful that the cancer will comeback. What can I do to lessen my anxiety?


Tracy Lautenbach, MSW, LCSW, Social Worker in the Radiation Oncology Department at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, responds:

It is perfectly understandable to have fears of recurrence. No one wants to get cancer again. Living with some fears of recurrence, especially when you go back for your check ups is a common experience for many survivors. However if the fear of recurrence is overwhelming it may make it difficult to move on with your life and adjust to life after cancer. If you need help managing your anxiety seek the help of a professional counselor and or join a support network with others that are survivors at your local Wellness Communtiy.

Rodney N. Warner, Staff Attorney at The Legal Clinic for the Disabled, responds:

Focus on the here and now. Try to be as zen as possible. There is no past or future, only the present. As time goes on, and your health improves, your fears will lessen. If not, seek professional help.

Gloria DiLullo, MSN, CRNP, OncoLink Medical Oncology Educational Content Specialist, responds:

A fear of recurrence is not at all uncommon for cancer survivors, and you are not alone. It’s important to address your concerns, because over time, ongoing anxiety can often lead to fatigue and depression. Take control of those things you can influence.

Here are a few practical suggestions to help you better manage anxiety:

  1. Engage in activities that help you to relax: Such as yoga and relaxation techniques, deep breathing exercises, meditation, and guided imagery are a few examples. Or whatever you find calming, certain hobbies, knitting, reading, etc.
  2. Seek out support: Speaking with others in a support group can help relieve anxiety and provide you with new ways of coping. Find support in your family, friends, faith community, or even a private counselor. The process of openly exploring emotions helps many people feel less anxious.
  3. Make healthier choices, such as increasing physical activity and adjusting your diet.
  4. Stay actively involved in your follow-up care by asking your doctor specific questions about the likelihood of recurrence. Discuss what you can do to minimize your chances of recurrence and what follow-up recommendations are so as to detect any potential abnormality as early as possible.

This question and answer was part of the OncoLink Brown Bag Chat Series, Cancer Survivorship. View the entire transcript on survivorship.