Breast cancer recurrence

Breast cancer that comes back is called a recurrence. There are different types of recurrence.

About breast cancer recurrence

Breast cancer that comes back is called a recurrence. There are different types of recurrence. Breast cancer may come back in the area where it started or in an area nearby such as the lymph nodes in the collarbone or another part of the body.

If it comes back in a different part of the body, for example the bones, it is known as secondary breast cancer.

Symptoms of breast cancer recurrence

After breast cancer treatment you may worry that any symptom you have is caused by the cancer. It can be hard to know what to look out for. You will still get the normal aches and pains everyone gets. Some symptoms may be caused by treatment side effects.

It is important to let your cancer doctor or nurse know about any symptoms or side effects that do not improve. If you notice anything unusual between appointments, contact your cancer doctor or breast care nurse straight away.

Your breast care nurse can tell you what to expect after treatment. They can explain what to look for in the treated breast, your chest area (if you had a mastectomy) and in the lymph nodes close to the breast

It is also important to know what to look out for in your untreated breast. We have more information about the signs and symptoms of breast cancer.

Breast cancer that comes back in another part of the body is called secondary breast cancer. We also have information about possible symptoms of secondary breast cancer.

Local and regional breast cancer recurrence

Sometimes breast cancer comes back in the treated breast or the scar. This is called a local recurrence.

Sometimes breast cancer comes back in the lymph nodes in the armpit, close to the breastbone or in the lower neck. This is called a regional recurrence.

A local or regional breast cancer recurrence can occur on its own or at the same time as secondary breast cancer.

Your cancer doctor usually recommends you have tests or scans. This is to check to see if the cancer has spread further.

If the cancer has not spread anywhere else in the body, treatment will depend on a number of factors, including what treatment you had before.


To diagnose a local or regional recurrence you have some of the same tests you had to diagnose primary breast cancer.

Your doctor may also recommend further tests to check that the cancer cells have not spread to other parts of the body.


Your treatment will depend on the treatment you have already had for breast cancer. Your doctor and nurse will talk to you about the most effective treatment for you.

Treatments for local or regional recurrence may include:

Secondary breast cancer

If tests show the cancer has spread to other parts of the body, such as the bones or lungs, this is called secondary breast cancer.

Learning you have secondary breast cancer may be harder than dealing with the first diagnosis. There are different treatments for secondary breast cancer that may help to control it for many years.

About our information

  • References

    Below is a sample of the sources used in our secondary breast cancer information. If you would like more information about the sources we use, please contact us at

    National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE). Advanced breast cancer: diagnosis and treatment. Clinical Guideline [CG81]. Updated 2017. Available from: (accessed November 2021).

    BMJ best practice. Metastatic breast cancer. Available from: (accessed November 2021).

  • Reviewers

    This information has been written, revised and edited by Macmillan Cancer Support’s Cancer Information Development team. It has been reviewed by expert medical and health professionals and people living with cancer. It has been approved by Dr Rebecca Roylance, Consultant Medical Oncologist and Professor Mike Dixon, Professor of Surgery and Consultant Breast Surgeon.

    Our cancer information has been awarded the PIF TICK. Created by the Patient Information Forum, this quality mark shows we meet PIF’s 10 criteria for trustworthy health information.

The language we use

We want everyone affected by cancer to feel our information is written for them.

We want our information to be as clear as possible. To do this, we try to:

  • use plain English
  • explain medical words
  • use short sentences
  • use illustrations to explain text
  • structure the information clearly
  • make sure important points are clear.

We use gender-inclusive language and talk to our readers as ‘you’ so that everyone feels included. Where clinically necessary we use the terms ‘men’ and ‘women’ or ‘male’ and ‘female’. For example, we do so when talking about parts of the body or mentioning statistics or research about who is affected.

You can read more about how we produce our information here.

Date reviewed

Reviewed: 01 July 2023
Next review: 01 July 2026
Trusted Information Creator - Patient Information Forum
Trusted Information Creator - Patient Information Forum

Our cancer information meets the PIF TICK quality mark.

This means it is easy to use, up-to-date and based on the latest evidence. Learn more about how we produce our information.