Where Can Breast Cancer Come Back or Metastasize (Spread)?

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Breast cancer can come back in three general areas:

  • the breast area where the cancer was originally diagnosed; this is called local recurrence
  • the lymph nodes in the armpit or collarbone area near where the cancer was originally diagnosed; this is called regional recurrence
  • another part of the body such as the lungs, bones, or brain; rarely, the opposite breast; this is called metastatic or distant recurrence

Some doctors believe that local and regional recurrence share many of the same characteristics, so they may use the term “locoregional” recurrence. Research has shown that the "personality" of the cancer may change when breast cancer comes back or metastasizes. For example, the hormone-receptor status may change from hormone-receptor-positive to hormone-receptor-negative. The HER2 status also may be different than the original breast cancer. If you were already treated for breast cancer and now have a new diagnosis of metastatic breast cancer, your doctor may want to biopsy the area of metastasis to find out whether there have been any changes in hormone-receptor or HER2 status.

On the following pages, you can read more about symptoms of the different types of recurrence:

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