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Breast cancer recurrence and prognosis

If your breast cancer has come back, known as recurrence, your outlook (prognosis) will depend on which type of recurrence you have. Learn more here.

1. What’s my prognosis (outlook)?

When breast cancer has come back after treatment, known as recurrence, people often ask what their prognosis or outlook is. 

Everyone’s prognosis will be different, but is likely to depend on:

  • The type of recurrence you have 
  • The features of your breast cancer  
  • How much time has passed since your was diagnosed and treated 

Your treatment team can talk to you about your prognosis if you want to know this.

Worried about breast cancer returning? 

If you’re worried about your breast cancer returning, it may help to read about the changes to be aware of after treatment, as well as our tips on coping with any worries, in our 'Breast cancer recurrence symptoms' guide.

2. Local recurrence prognosis

If breast cancer has come back in the chest or breast area, in the skin near the original site or scar, or if it has been a long time since you first had treatment, then the cancer can often be successfully treated.

There’s some uncertainty about how local recurrence affects your overall prognosis.

Some breast cancer specialists believe that a local recurrence does not mean that the cancer is more likely to spread in the future. Other specialists think that local recurrence does increase the risk of the cancer spreading elsewhere. Research is ongoing to try to answer this question and to pinpoint who may be at most risk.

3. Locally advanced breast cancer (regional recurrence) prognosis

If breast cancer has come back and spread to the tissues and lymph nodes around the chest, neck and under the breastbone, there may be an increased risk of cancer cells spreading to other areas of the body.

This means the overall prognosis can be harder to predict.

Treatments such as chemotherapy, hormone and targeted therapies are given for locally advanced breast cancer because they work throughout the whole body.

4. Secondary breast cancer prognosis

If cancer has spread from the breast to another part of the body (known as secondary, metastatic, stage 4 or advanced breast cancer), it can be treated but it can’t be cured.

No two cancers progress in the same way, and as treatments have improved more and more people are living longer after a diagnosis of secondary breast cancer.

Your specialist will have an understanding of the likely progression of your secondary breast cancer and can talk to you about what you might expect. 

Find out more about secondary breast cancer

5. Coping with a breast cancer recurrence

Finding out that your cancer has come back can cause a mix of emotions. You might feel shocked, angry or frightened.

It’s important that you have a chance to ask questions. Your cancer specialist can give you information that’s tailored to your individual situation. Your breast care nurse can also be a helpful source of information and support.

Ongoing treatment and an uncertain prognosis can cause you to feel worried and anxious about your future. There’s no easy way to deal with this uncertainty but you might want to get in touch with other people who are going through something similar.

You can exchange tips on coping with uncertainty and side effects of treatment, ask questions, share experiences and talk through concerns on our online forum.

You can also call our free helpline, further below, for information and support, and to find out about our services.

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Quality assurance

Last reviewed in May 2019. The next planned review begins in February 2023.

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