Returning breast cancer in women likely to be different, curable

Kathleen Blanchard's picture
Recurrent breast cancer

Researchers found returning breast cancer is different from the original and requires tailored treatment.

The finding that comes from investigators at Fox Chase Cancer Center, means breast cancer that returns should be treated as "new" and potentially curable.

Richard J. Bleicher, MD, FACS, attending surgeon at Fox Chase and senior author on the study explains, "There tends to be a stigma and a lot of anxiety about the word 'recurrence' that leads women to "worry more if they believe their original cancer is back, meaning they didn't 'beat it' the first time around."

He suggests women should not focus on breast cancer that comes back because the tumor will look much different than the original.

The finding also shows tailored treatment is needed, regardless of length of time between initial diagnosis and return of breast cancer.


Dr. Bleicher explains there are no official criteria to determine whether recurring breast tumors are the same. Physicians frequently approach treatment based on the length of time a woman has been cancer free, but a new study shows often the cancer is not the same.

Recurring breast cancer requires different treatment

In the investigation, researchers looked at breast cancer that returned in the same breast in 235 women out of 4,420 breast cancer cases.

In eighty nine percent of the women, the tumor had different characteristics, regardless of whether the cancer was considered new or a recurrence of the original. Sixty percent of tumors had two or more characteristics that would require a new treatment approach. The findings are due for presentation at the 2011 Annual Meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology on Monday, June 6.

The average time before cancer returned was 60.5 months. The time between original diagnosis was irrelevant in relationship to the cancer characteristics.

The finding highlights the importance of investigating recurrent breast cancer that frequently differs from the original tumors. Bleicher suggest physicians and women with the disease should focus on the potential for cure rather than thinking previous treatment failed.

Image credit: Morguefile