If cancer comes back

If cancer comes back, your doctors will talk to you about your treatment options and help you decide what feels right for you.

About cancer coming back

If cancer comes back after treatment, it is often possible to treat it again. Treatment can often control the cancer, sometimes for many months or years. Treatment to control the cancer is called palliative care. For some people, treatment may aim to get rid of the cancer again.

You will usually have some time to think about your treatment options. It can help to discuss these with your family and friends, as well as the doctors and nurses looking after you. It is important to make the treatment decision that feels right for you.

Finding out that cancer has come back can be a shock. Everyone has their own way of coping with advanced cancer.

Our cancer support specialists can also give you information and emotional support. Call them on 0808 808 00 00. You may find it helpful to talk to someone you do not know and who is not emotionally involved in your situation. Your family or friends may find this helpful, too.

Why does cancer come back?

Sometimes after treatment, tiny cancer cells can stay in the body. Over time, they may start to divide and grow again to form a cancer. This means cancer can come back (recur). Sometimes, this happens many years later.

Most people have follow-up appointments with their cancer doctor for months, or years, after treatment. These appointments may include tests and scans. If the cancer comes back, tests and scans can help find it early.

Some cancer types have a higher risk of coming back. Your doctor will talk to you about the risk of the cancer coming back.

A cancer that comes back is called a recurrent cancer. Sometimes, cancer can come back in the same area of the body. This is called a local recurrence. Or the cancer can come back in a different area of the body. This is called secondary cancer or metastasis. Recurrent and secondary cancers are sometimes called advanced cancer.

If you are worried the cancer will come back

Many people worry that the cancer will come back after treatment. Even when your doctor reassures you, it is still normal to worry. As time goes on, most people become less worried about this. The risk also goes down over time.

If you are worried about any unexplained symptoms, particularly any that last for more than a week, get them checked by your GP.