What is recurrent breast cancer?

Recurrent breast cancer means that the cancer has come back (recurred) after it has been treated. It may come back in the breast, in the soft tissues of the chest (the chest wall) or in another part of the body. If breast cancer is found, more tests will be done to find out the size and extent of the cancer in the breast and to determine whether the cancer has spread from the breast to other parts of the body.
Recurrent breast cancer means the disease has returned in spite of the initial treatment. Most recurrences appear within the first two or three years after treatment, but breast cancer can recur many years later. This type of breast cancer may come back in the breast, chest wall or in other parts of the body.

Breast cancer that returns locally (i.e., in the area of the surgery) is called a local recurrence. If the disease returns in another part of the body, it is called metastatic breast cancer. Women with recurrent breast cancer will receive treatment based on where the cancer returned.
Stuart A. Linder, MD
Plastic Surgery
Recurrent breast cancer is associated with RETURN of the tumor or malignancy. Recurrent can be either local or distant. Local recurrence is associated with tumor from the original location. A distant recurrence may be found to other structures from metastasis to bone, brain, lymph nodes, brain, liver, etc. 
Cancer is called recurrent when it come backs after treatment. Recurrence can be local (in the same breast or near the mastectomy scar) or in a distant area. Cancer that is found in the opposite breast is not a recurrence -- it is a new cancer that requires its own treatment.
Local recurrence: Treatment of women whose breast cancer has recurred locally depends on their initial treatment. If the woman had breast-conserving therapy, local recurrence in the breast is usually treated with mastectomy. If the initial treatment was mastectomy, recurrence near the mastectomy site is treated by removing the tumor whenever possible. This is followed by radiation therapy, but only if none had been given after the original surgery. (Radiation can't be given to the same area twice.) In either case, hormone therapy, trastuzumab, chemotherapy, or some combination of these may be used after surgery and/or radiation therapy.
Distant recurrence: In general, women who have a recurrence involving organs such as the bones, lungs, brain, etc., are treated the same way as those found to have stage IV breast cancer in these organs when they were first diagnosed (see treatment for stage IV). The only difference is that treatment may be affected by previous treatments a woman has had.
Should your cancer come back, the American Cancer Society document,
When Your Cancer Comes Back: Cancer Recurrence  can provide you with more general information on how to manage and cope with this phase of your treatment.  You can find it at or by calling 1-800-227-2345.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.