Can cancer lay dormant, then metastasize?


Question from Sharon: I had breast cancer 8 years ago and last year was diagnosed with metastasis to the bone. I never understood how it could lay dormant for all these years and then resurface.
Answers - Lillie Shockney, R.N., B.S., M.A.S. I think most of us feel that if we skate through and hit the 5-year mark, we have entered a 'safe' zone. However, there really isn't a timeline for risk of recurrence. We certainly do wish that there was, so that when you hit that milestone you could be guaranteed that this disease would not revisit in your body. Often times when it recurs, we see it between the second and sixth year. However, I have a dear friend whose disease did not resurface for 21 years. One good note in looking at the 8-year span of time for you is that there have been additional clinical trials developed and effective new drugs discovered, which weren't available at the time of your original diagnosis. You are also a walking example of the importance of women maintaining their routine oncologic visits so that they can continue to be monitored, at least annually, for recurrence of breast cancer.
Gwen Darien I think there is this idea out there that once you hit the magic 5-year mark that you don't have to worry anymore. I've had people say that it's been 5 years and 1 month, and then they get cancer back again. I think it is important to understand your risk of recurrence and that there is no magical time period. I think a lot of women feel betrayed if they get a recurrence after that magic period of time. Health care providers need to be careful with their language to patients. It is nice to live with hope, but 'cure' is a very difficult and dangerous word to use.

On Wednesday, June 20, 2001, our Ask-the-Expert Online Conference was called Tackling Fear. Lillie Shockney, R.N., B.S., M.A.S.,Marisa Weiss, M.D. and moderator Gwen Darien, Editor-in-Chief, MAMM Magazine, answered your questions about how to manage breast cancer fears.

The materials presented in these conferences do not necessarily reflect the views of Breastcancer.org. A qualified healthcare professional should be consulted before using any therapeutic product or regimen discussed. All readers should verify all information and data before employing any therapies described here.

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