My sister is waiting for test results to see if her cancer has come back. If it has what does that mean?

Sometimes cancer returns because there were some cancer cells that did not get destroyed in the first round of treatment. It does not mean that something went wrong with the first treatment, only that there were some cells that were just too small to detect in follow-up tests.

These cells have grown over time to form tumors that are detectible. It is possible to develop a completely different form of cancer, but it is unusual.

Cancer can return in three different ways:

Local recurrence – a tumor in the same place as the previous cancer, or very close to it.

Regional recurrence – a tumor in the lymph nodes or tissues near the place of the original cancer.

Distant recurrence – a cancer is in a part of the body far away from the original location. The cancer is said to have metastasized.

There are many different treatment options for recurrent cancer. Local recurrences are often treated with surgery and radiation therapy. Regional and distant recurrences can be treated by chemotherapy and biological therapy.

The course of treatment will depend on the type of cancer and its location. Some patients might decide to take part in a clinical trial after cancer returns. It is important to communicate with the doctor about all available options and pick the one or ones that are best for your sister.

For some, when cancer returns, the diagnosis can be as shocking and scary as the first diagnosis. Remember that cancer treatments continue to progress, so the options your sister has available today are even better than when she was first treated. For more information, contact Courtney Britton, librarian at Cancer Services of Greater Baton Rouge, at (225) 927-2273,, or visit the Education Center at 550 Lobdell Ave., Baton Rouge.

ä Internet Resources:

When Cancer Returns – NCI

When cancer returns: How to cope with cancer recurrence – Mayo Clinic

When Cancer Comes Back – ACS

This column is presented as a service by Cancer Services of Greater Baton Rouge, a United Way affiliate.