Fear of recurrence is normal and is very common among cancer survivors, above all during the first few years after treatment. Although the fear does subside with time, it may not go away completely - it may move to the background of daily life.
Cancer survivors may have a range of feelings about fear of recurrence like, anxiety, depression, anger, lethargy, disappointment, grief, isolation, and loneliness.
Cancer recurrence happens when the treatment given did not kill or remove all of the cancer cells. Often cells that have not been killed by treatment are too small to be seen by medical tests. Over time, cells that were not killed begin to grow and become large enough to be detected by medical tests.
It is recommended that you talk to your cancer health care team about your fears to help identify some of the reasons for the fears and try to decide if they are realistic or not. For example, a person with cancer may be worried about information that someone else has told them that is not correct.
What Princess Margaret Cancer Centre will do
Your oncologist or nurse will discuss the risk of recurrence with you. Some people find this information makes them feel better while others find it unsettling or anxiety provoking. You can ask your doctor or nurse as much or as little as you like about recurrence.
Some questions you may choose to ask:
- How will I know if the cancer comes back?
- Where is the cancer likely to come back?
- Is there anything I can do to prevent the cancer from coming back?
- What tests do I need to ensure the cancer has not recurred?
- How often should I be seen by my family doctor?
What you can do
- Attend your cancer follow-up appointments
- Join a support group and talk to others who have been through cancer (you can do this in-person or online)
- Get some counseling. You can ask your doctor to refer you to a social worker, psychologist, psychiatrist, or another helping professional.
- Adopt new risk reducing behaviours such as an exercise routine, healthy eating habits, and cancer screening programs
- Partake in physical and other stress reducing activities, such as yoga, meditation, or tai-chi.
* Acknowledgement - The Truth of It video series is a joint initiative of the Canadian Partnership Against Cancer and the Health Design Lab, part of the Li Ka Shing Knowledge Institute at St. Michael's Hospital in Toronto.