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The Voice of People With Breast Cancer


Living with Breast Cancer


Types and Symptoms of Recurrence

A breast cancer recurrence happens when breast cancer returns months or years after you’ve finished treatment and are in remission. Breast cancer that is found in the untreated, opposite breast is not a recurrence but a new cancer. When breast cancer recurs, it can be local, regional, or distant and the signs and symptoms of a breast cancer recurrence varies, depending on where it comes back.

A local breast cancer recurrence happens when the cancer comes back in the same breast or chest area as the initial tumor. If you had a lumpectomy, a recurrence can happen in the left-over breast tissue. If you had a mastectomy, there is no left-over breast tissue, but a recurrence can occur in the tissue lining the chest wall or skin.

Signs and symptoms of a local breast cancer recurrence may look like:

  • Breast lump or bumps on or under the chest
  • Unusually firm breast tissue
  • Swelling on your chest, in your armpit, or around your collarbone
  • A change in the shape or size of the breast or chest area
  • Nipple changes, such as flattening or nipple discharge
  • An inverted nipple (pulled in) or a nipple that looks different
  • Redness or a rash on or around the nipple or on the skin
  • Swollen, thickening skin or skin that pulls near or on the lumpectomy scar
  • A change in skin texture, such as puckering or dimpling
  • Swelling in the arm or hand
  • One or more painless nodules on or under the skin of your chest wall

Breast cancer that comes back near the original tumor, in the lymph nodes in the armpit (axillary lymph nodes) or collarbone area is referred to as a regional breast cancer recurrence.

Signs and symptoms of a regional breast cancer recurrence may look like:

  • Chronic chest pain
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Pain, swelling, or numbness in one arm or shoulder
  • Lump or swelling in the lymph nodes located:
    • Under your arm
    • Near or above your collarbone
    • Near the breastbone
    • In your neck

A breast cancer recurrence that spreads to areas of the body other than where the cancer first formed is referred to as metastatic or stage 4 breast cancer. When breast cancer spreads in this way, it can spread to the lungs, bones, brain, liver, skin, or other parts of the body. Unlike early-stage cancer (stage 1, 2, or 3), stage 4 breast cancer currently has no cure.

Signs and symptoms of a distant breast cancer recurrence may look like:

  • Bone pain or pain in the affected area that is persistent, worsens over time, and may be worse at night
  • Severe headaches
  • Numbness or weakness
  • Vision problems
  • Chronic dry cough
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Dizziness or balance problems
  • Seizures
  • Extreme fatigue
  • Loss of appetite, nausea, and weight loss

The Canadian Cancer Society has a database that can be used to find local support services in your area. You can access it below:



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