When Elizabeth Edwards announced in March that her breast cancer had
returned, her peers -- other breast cancer survivors -- expressed a range of
emotions. Topping the list was empathy for Edwards, whose cancer had spread to
her bones. There was also pride in her bravery: She chose to be open and honest
about an intensely personal health issue. Others found themselves reliving
their own diagnoses. And, of course, many could not help but give way to
gnawing worry about their own health. Edwards'...
Breast cancer can recur or come back in three ways:
The cancer can return at the original site. This is called a local recurrence.
The cancer can recur nearby, such as in the chest. This is called a regional recurrence.
The cancer can spread to a distant location in the body, such as lymph nodes, bone marrow, or lungs. This is called a distant recurrence, or a metastasis.
Your doctor will order more tests to see if the breast cancer has spread, beginning with a physical exam and often a biopsy. The doctor is checking to see if cancer is present and, if so, if it is a recurrence of the same type of cancer or a completely new cancer (which is called a second primary cancer.)
If it is a recurrence, additional tests may include a bone scan, X-rays including CT scan, an MRI, blood tests, and PET scan.
Treatment will depend on whether the recurrence is local, regional, or distant.
Local recurrence can be treated with a mastectomy if a lumpectomy was originally performed or radiation if a mastectomy has been performed.
Regional breast recurrence is rare. Treatment may include a combination of surgery, medication, and radiation.
Treating a distant recurrence of breast cancer that has spread (called metastastic) can include: