Future Risk

Doctors can't precisely predict if cancer will recur, but depending on the type of cancer, stage and other factors, a strategy for monitoring for recurrence can be put in place after treatment.

Typically, patients who had complete surgical removal of their tumor or those with early-stage, non-aggressive tumors are less likely to have their cancer recur. For most cancers, the risk of recurrence declines over time, but every cancer type has a different pattern. Certain types of acute leukemias and lymphomas are usually considered cured if no recurrence has been found after several years, whereas melanoma can recur 10 or 20 years after surgery. Certain cancers, such as bladder, lung or pancreas, are more likely to recur than others.

Adjuvant therapy usually refers to hormone therapy, chemotherapy, radiation therapy or immunotherapy added after surgery to increase the chances of curing the disease or to reduce the risk of recurrence. While surgery may remove the tumor, undetected cancer cells can remain, so the goal of adjuvant therapy is to kill or disable them. In addition, a healthy diet of fruits and vegetables, and frequent exercise may help lower recurrence risk in many cancers.

Newer genetic tests, such as gene profiles, can help predict the risk of recurrence of certain cancer types, as well as the expected benefit from chemotherapy. Patients should ask their doctors if a genetic test might help them understand their risk.

[Handling Fear of Recurrence]

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