When Breast Cancer Returns

Breast cancer recurrence risk factors characterized

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) The only thing more challenging and scary than being diagnosed with breast cancer is having the disease reappear or metastasize (spread). Recent research describes the nature of metastatic and recurrent breast cancer.

Two studies provide insight into the risk factors for breast cancer to return. What's most important in determining these risks is how the disease originally presented itself.

"Don't let fear keep you from having a doctor examine any breast changes."

Suleiman Massarweh, M.D., an oncologist at the University of Kentucky Markey Cancer Center and his research team used information collected from 1,089 patients who were treated for breast cancer between 2007 and 2011.

The objective of the two studies was to define relapse risks among patients who were first diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer and those who had the disease return shortly after treatment.

Patients originally diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer tend to be older, have less aggressive tumors and be more prone to the disease spreading to the bone.

Patients who have early relapses after initial treatment usually are younger and have more aggressive cancers that return even after treatment.

So what does this mean? Dr. Massarweh says these findings suggest that patients who are first diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer likely have chosen to ignore breast care by not being screened or not getting help as soon as changes were noticed.

Metastatic breast cancer is very difficult - and often impossible - to treat.

He says this type of neglect is a "social problem," indicating that women aren't adequately aware of breast cancer screenings recommendations and other areas of breast care, including cancer symptoms, regular self-exams and second opinions.

Dr. Massarweh thinks the fear surrounding the diagnosis of breast cancer "may drive patients to hide it from others, perhaps because they are more worried about the side effects of treatment and its impact on their lives."

"It's a shame that breast cancer, which is very otherwise treatable, ends up becoming incurable because of lack of awareness," he added

Breast cancers that come back quickly - in 2-3 years after being treated - are usually meaner and more aggressive forms of the disease. Dr. Massarweh urges the continued focus on developing new therapies to extend the lives of these young women.

While more work is neeed to find new therapies, Dr. Massarweh says increasing awareness about the vital importance of early detection must become a public health priority.

Findings from this research were presented at the 2011 San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium. Research is considered preliminary before being published in a peer-review journal.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
December 30, 2011
Last Updated:
January 2, 2012