Breast Cancer May Come Back Even Many Years After Treatment

Sign in to receive recommendations (Learn more)

A study shows that there is a risk of breast cancer coming back (recurrence) even many years after surgery and other treatments to reduce that risk.

The researchers looked at the health histories of almost 3,000 women who didn't have early-stage breast cancer come back during the 5 years after diagnosis and initial treatment. Breast cancer that comes back within 5 years of diagnosis and initial treatment is called "early recurrence." Breast cancer that comes back more than 5 years after diagnosis and initial treatment is called "late recurrence."

Ten years after initial diagnosis and treatment, 11% of the women in the study had a late recurrence. At 15 years after initial diagnosis and treatment, 20% of the women had a late recurrence.

The study showed that the risk of late recurrence was more likely when:

  • the cancer was later stage at the time of diagnosis; the risk of late recurrence at 10 years after initial diagnosis and treatment was:
    • 7% with stage I cancer
    • 11% with stage II
    • 13% with stage III
  • the breast cancer was hormone-receptor-positive

This research strongly suggests that ALL women diagnosed with breast cancer need to talk to their doctors about steps they can take to reduce the risk of both early and late recurrence.

If you're newly diagnosed with early-stage breast cancer:

  • Talk to your doctor about how chemotherapy and radiation therapy after surgery can help lower the risk of breast cancer coming back. If the cancer is HER2-positive, ask your doctor if Herceptin would be a good option for you.
  • If you're a premenopausal woman diagnosed with hormone-receptor-positive cancer, talk to your doctor about treatments that reduce the effect of estrogen on the risk of the cancer coming back. Possible treatments include taking tamoxifen, taking medicine to shut down the ovaries (medical ovarian shutdown), or surgically removing the ovaries (oophorectomy).
  • If you're a postmenopausal woman diagnosed with hormone-receptor-positive cancer, talk to your doctor about hormonal therapy treatment after initial treatment. Tamoxifen or one of the aromatase inhibitors is usually taken for 5 years after surgery (and possibly radiation and chemotherapy) to lower the risk of hormone-receptor-positive, early-stage breast cancer coming back. The aromatase inhibitors are Arimidex (chemical name: anastrozole), Aromasin (chemical name: exemestane), and Femara (chemical name: letrozole).

If you've been diagnosed and treated for early-stage breast cancer within the last 5 years:

  • Make sure you stay on track with your hormonal therapy treatment plan and take the hormonal therapy medicine for as long as it's prescribed.
  • If you're taking a hormonal therapy medicine for 5 years after surgery (or recently completed 5 years of hormonal therapy) ask your doctor about the pros and cons of taking hormonal therapy longer than 5 years to continue to reduce the risk of the cancer coming back.
  • Follow the breast cancer screening plan you and your doctor have created.

Besides these treatments, there are other diet and lifestyle changes you can make to keep the risk of the cancer coming back as low as it can be. Learn more in the Lowering Risk for People with a Personal History section.

Was this resource helpful?

Yes No
Evergreen-donate
Back to Top