If I have one cancer diagnosis, am I at risk for developing another?

Cancer is a diagnosis that can be life-changing and bring about a range of concerns about ongoing health. One significant worry for many individuals is the fear of cancer returning. Managing this fear is an essential component of cancer treatment, as it can have a significant impact on a person’s quality of life.

But just how likely is it for cancer to return? The process of cancer recurrence occurs when a few cancer cells that may have remained dormant after initial treatment start to grow again over time. These cells can lead to the development of a new cancer, which is often the same type as the original cancer. In some cases, the new cancer can even grow in a different location through a process called metastasis.

For actor Hugh Jackman, multiple diagnoses of basal cell carcinoma, a type of skin cancer, have been a part of his health journey over the past decade. The exact reasons why cancer returns can vary depending on the type of cancer and the treatment received. Ongoing research is focused on identifying genes associated with cancer recurrence, with the hope of tailoring treatments for individuals at higher risk.

The risk of cancer returning can differ significantly between different types of cancer and even between sub-types of the same cancer. Advances in screening and treatment options have led to a reduction in recurrence rates for many cancers. For instance, the risk of colon cancer recurring decreased by 31–68% between 2004 and 2019. It’s important to note that only a person’s treatment team can assess their individual risk of cancer returning.

Typically, the highest risk of cancer recurrence for most types of cancer is within the first three years after entering remission. After this period, the recurrence rates tend to decrease, indicating that the risk of the cancer returning diminishes over time. Additionally, new discoveries and advancements in cancer drugs continue to emerge, providing hope for improved treatments and outcomes.

In some cases, individuals may develop a second, unrelated cancer. Factors that may contribute to this increased risk include shared lifestyle, environmental, and genetic risk factors among different types of cancers. While there is a slightly elevated risk of developing a second primary cancer compared to the general population, the overall risk remains relatively small.

Regular follow-up examinations and engaging in healthy lifestyle practices such as not smoking, being physically active, and maintaining a healthy weight can help lower the general risk of cancer recurrence and the development of a second, unrelated cancer. While there are no specific treatments to prevent cancer recurrence or the occurrence of a second cancer, staying proactive with healthcare and lifestyle choices can make a significant difference in one’s overall well-being.

The journey through cancer diagnosis and treatment can be challenging, but staying informed and proactive can help individuals navigate their health with confidence and resilience. Remember, each day brings new opportunities for progress and discovery in the fight against cancer.

Back To Top