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November 28, 2023 | 3 minute read

What if My Cancer Comes Back?

Key Takeaways:
  • The fear of cancer recurrence can occur after the completion of cancer treatment and may have symptoms such as anxiety about their cancer returning, depression and trouble sleeping.
  • You can deal with the fear of cancer recurrence by developing a survivorship care plan in conjunction with your health care team.
  • Your care plan may include therapy, joining a cancer support group, meditation, and focusing on lifestyle factors such as nutrition and physical activity.

Your cancer treatment is over. You thought the feelings of anxiety, fear or sadness would be over, too. For many cancer survivors, transitioning from active treatment to routine cancer follow-up care seems like it would be the easy part. However, new feelings about the fear of cancer recurrence (FCR) can arise.

What is Fear of Cancer Recurrence?

The fear of cancer recurrence is a real, studied phenomenon that can occur after the completion of cancer treatment. A person can develop anxiety about their cancer returning, become depressed and have trouble sleeping. Getting back to life as it was before cancer is more complicated than it sounds. Being fearful of cancer returning is entirely normal, and most people will have FCR to a degree. FCR tends to lessen with time.

Dealing with Fear of Cancer Recurrence

After treatment, talk to your doctor about a survivorship care plan (SCP). An SCP shows what treatment you had, any expected side effects and what cancer screening tests you need going forward. The SCP is sent to your other doctors. Having a well-communicated, ongoing plan will help you feel more secure.

Manage the Fear of Cancer Recurrence

Here are some ways to manage fear after cancer treatment:

  1. Consider talking to a mental health professional.
  2. Write down and track any symptoms to show your doctor.
  3. Join a cancer survivor support group.
  4. Learn to meditate to help with anxiety and sleep.
  5. Take up new activities you enjoy.
  6. Join an exercise class such as aerobics, weight training or yoga.
  7. Start journaling your emotions.
  8. Follow AICR’s Cancer Prevention Recommendations. 

When to Report Symptoms

If you have a new symptom like pain, swelling, lumps, shortness of breath, cough or headache that you cannot explain and increases in frequency or severity—contact your doctor. If you experience symptoms like those that led to your cancer diagnosis, you should report them to your doctor.

When in doubt, mention any concerns you have. Cancer survivor Dr. Nigel Brockton, Vice President of Research at AICR says, “from my own experience, my approach is to think ‘would this have concerned me before my cancer diagnosis?’ That has a strong effect of putting things in context when your instinctive reaction may be to link everything to your cancer diagnosis.”

Practice Healthy Living

Incorporating a healthy lifestyle may help prevent cancer from recurring. Plus, you will feel better and feel more in control! Here are five tips:

  1. Strive to be a healthy weight and to be physically active.
  2. Limit consumption of red meat and processed meats.
  3. Eat a diet rich in whole grains, beans, fruits and vegetables.
  4. Eat fewer fast foods, baked goods and salty snacks.
  5. Limit alcohol intake and do not smoke.

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