How to treat recurrent breast cancer

Breast cancer can recur as local recurrence in the area in which surgery has already been performed, in the other breast in the form of a new primary cancer or in the form of metastatic tumours. It is not possible to cure recurrent metastatic cancer, but it is possible to slow its growth.

The most serious form of recurrent cancer is the occurrence of metastases, which usually affect the bones, lungs, liver or lymph nodes.

The basic form of treatment for breast cancer that has spread to other sites is a form of medical treatment which depends on the biological subtype of the breast cancer. Hormone receptor positive breast cancers are mainly treated with hormone therapy and others with chemotherapy.

Many forms of treatment

Different forms of treatment can be used as the cancer develops. One form of treatment is used at a time, but unfortunately the cancer develops a resistance to the treatment and another form will have to be used. On average, a patient with recurrent metastatic breast cancer may be given 4-6 different forms of treatment, one after the other.

The average survival rate after metastases are diagnosed is about three years, but some may live for up to ten years.

During hormone therapy, patients usually look quite healthy and may even be able to work. Chemotherapy can make patients feel very ill. Nowadays, there are numerous forms of treatment, so treatments can be selected to suit the individual.

Local recurrence and new primary cancer

Breast cancer can recur in the breast that has already undergone surgery or in the armpit on the affected side. This is known as local recurrence. This type of cancer is treated, where possible, with surgery and with drugs and radiation therapy.

Breast cancer may also appear in the other breast, in which case this is a new primary cancer, which is treated in the same way as the first primary cancer.

Riikka Huovinen, Docent and Specialist in Oncology, from the Turku University Hospital was interviewed for this article.