About Breast Cancer>Emotional Health>Fear of recurrence > Common fear of recurrence triggers

Common fear of recurrence triggers

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Certain events, anniversaries, or activities in your life could remind you of cancer and trigger, or bring out, your concerns about recurrence.

Understanding and naming these concerns—and connecting your emotions to your experience with breast cancer—can be very helpful in managing them.



Birthdays, anniversaries, holidays, or other milestones can trigger fears of recurrence because they remind you of feelings you had about your diagnosis. Sometimes anticipating these occasions can cause even stronger emotions than the occasions themselves.

The anniversary of your diagnosis or of the beginning or end of treatment could be a day of celebration, or it could bring back memories of the negative emotions and fears you felt when you were diagnosed.

You may even feel like all life occasions are bittersweet. Sometimes you may be fearful during these events but not make the connection between these feelings and breast cancer.


Everyday triggers

Words, sights, tastes, sounds, or smells can bring on fears. Sometimes these triggers appear so quickly that you don’t have time to prepare yourself. Some examples are:

  • you smell a familiar chemical or cleaning solution that you smelled during your treatments
  • you see a woman wearing a headscarf
  • a friend serves you a food that you ate or avoided during your treatment
  • you hear the song that was playing when you learned about your diagnosis
  • you unexpectedly see the words “breast cancer” in a magazine or book or on TV

You may be frightened by a friend’s remark about cancer, reading an obituary or learning that a “treatment buddy” has had a recurrence or passed away. If you hear that a friend, family member, or celebrity has been diagnosed with or died of cancer, your feelings also can surface.

You may even be reminded of your experience if you see pink ribbons on cars, jewelry, and clothing or food products, or if you see breast cancer commercials on television.


Physical symptoms

Fears are common when you have certain physical symptoms you associate with cancer, like fatigue, headaches, pain, or coughs. These physical symptoms are usually everyday aches and pains, but until you know for sure they may be very distressing.

Most doctors practice the “two-week rule.” If a symptom lasts longer than 2 weeks, call your doctor. If you have persistent intense pain, chest pain or symptoms that interfere with your breathing or coordination, go to the emergency room immediately.


Follow-up testing

The anxiety you may feel during follow-up appointments and tests or while waiting for test results may provoke fears of recurrence.

Sitting in waiting rooms, whether you are waiting to meet with your doctor or for a test can make you feel especially nervous and fearful.

Your most intense fears may come while waiting for test results. Sometimes test results take days or weeks to come back. You might find yourself wondering what your life will be like if the test results are bad.



Having many reconstructive surgeries after treatment is a constant reminder of what you’ve been through. Depending on the type of surgery you choose, parts of your body will feel and function differently.

After surgery, you may worry tests won’t be able to find a recurrence in your reconstructed breast. Remember, when you had a mastectomy, very little tissue was left over that can be tested. Most important, women who have reconstruction don’t have a higher chance of recurrence than women who haven’t had reconstruction. If the cancer does come back, studies show that reconstruction doesn’t seem to delay the diagnosis or treatment.