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Fears of Recurrence

Updated December 17, 2014

Fear of recurrence, or fear of the cancer coming back, is one of the most common worries among women with breast cancer. This fear can have a powerful effect on the quality of your life. Virtually all women who have had breast cancer worry about this possibility.

If you fear recurrence, you may worry sometimes or often that cancer will come back in your affected breast, your other breast or in other parts of your body. You may have concerns about having to go through treatment again and fears of having pain or discomfort from more surgery, chemotherapy, radiation or other treatments. You may feel stressed about the impact of another diagnosis on your appearance, relationships, social life, family or career. No matter what stage of cancer you had, you may be afraid of dying from cancer.

Why You Fear Recurrence

Your feelings are shaped by your personal coping style, situations impacting your life now, past mental health, support systems and many other factors. You may worry more if you have a breast cancer that is harder to treat or more aggressive or if you have a genetic mutation.

Your fears may seem stronger at certain times of the year, such as birthdays, holidays, special events or the anniversary of your diagnosis. You may be reminded of breast cancer at times you least expect by sights, smells and sounds.

Physical symptoms, follow-up tests and follow-up surgeries like reconstruction also can affect your fears and remind you of what you’ve been through.

Coping with Fears

As you transition into life after treatment and into the years beyond your diagnosis, manage your feelings by getting support from family, friends, other women affected by breast cancer and healthcare professionals (especially mental health providers). You also can empower yourself to move forward by taking practical steps to protect yourself from recurrence and overcome your fears.

  • Allow yourself to relax and focus on the things you enjoy in life, such as spending time with family and friends, being creative or journaling. Doing these things will allow you to release stress and work through your feelings.
  • Learn more about breast cancer. Do online research, or talk with your doctor to find out what you can do to help prevent recurrence.
  • Make lifestyle changes. Exercise, good nutrition and avoiding unhealthy habits will improve your overall health, and some researchers believe these behaviors may help prevent recurrence.
  • Find meaningful ways to help others. Reaching out to others in need will help you process your experience.

Read more and learn about the providers who helped us write this page in our Guide to Understanding Fear of Recurrence.