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TNBC: Risks and fear of recurrence

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The risk of recurrence, or breast cancer coming back, is highest in the first 5 years after a diagnosis of triple-negative breast cancer. Aggressive cancer cells may travel from the breast to other parts of the body. These cells move through the bloodstream and pathways called the lymphatic channels, which carry fluid away from the breast to the lymph nodes. The goal of chemotherapy is to kill these stray cells and lower your risk of recurrence.

After 5 years, your risk of recurrence goes down. In fact, as time goes on, your risk for recurrence may be lower than that of someone treated for hormone receptor-positive breast cancer.

If you still have breast tissue after surgery, the risk for developing a new breast cancer in the same or opposite breast does not decrease over time. Keep up with regular doctor’s appointments and mammograms to find any new breast cancer.

Most people with triple-negative breast cancer don’t have a recurrence or develop a new cancer. But you may be overwhelmed by worries about breast cancer returning. Birthdays, anniversaries and holidays can bring these emotions to the surface, as can news about a friend, family member, or a famous person’s diagnosis. Your fears may be stronger before you go for follow-up appointments and when you wait for test results. To lower your anxiety, try some of our self-care tips to manage stress and anxiety.

Consider seeking emotional support through counseling, a support group, or other programs. Talking with someone who understands can help a great deal in reducing your anxiety and stress.

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Reviewed and updated: April 18, 2018

Reviewed by: Lisa Carey MD, FASCO

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Living Beyond Breast Cancer is a national nonprofit organization that seeks to create a world that understands there is more than one way to have breast cancer. To fulfill its mission of providing trusted information and a community of support to those impacted by the disease, Living Beyond Breast Cancer offers on-demand emotional, practical, and evidence-based content. For over 30 years, the organization has remained committed to creating a culture of acceptance — where sharing the diversity of the lived experience of breast cancer fosters self-advocacy and hope. For more information, learn more about our programs and services.

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