Mesothelioma often returns to the area of a person’s body where it first arose. For example, if mesothelioma began in your abdomen if the disease returns it will likely be in this same area. Another difficulty with mesothelioma is when it returns, it commonly appears in the location of earlier wounds. When mesothelioma returns in such a way, the act is called malignant seeding and is a common result of procedures performed on people with mesothelioma. The region that your medical team must monitor for indicators of recurrence includes sites where surgery, biopsies, thoracentesis, or chest tubes have been involved. As a result, it’s common for your medical team to examine these locations when you attend medical appointments.
You should also make sure to notify your medical team about any strange or new bumps you discover in these parts of your body. While spread can occur to distant body parts with metastatic mesothelioma, this often only happens late in the disease’s progression. Following treatment for mesothelioma in a person’s chest, the disease can begin to grow in an individual’s belly. Various symptoms including loss of appetite, difficulty closing clothing like pants, or feelings of fullness when you have not anything can be the result of fluid accumulation in the abdomen and an indicator that the disease has spread to this part of the body. It’s critical to follow up with your medical team and make sure that you are routinely monitored.
You should routinely receive CT scans following treatment to assess the progression of the disease and look for either local or distant recurrence.
What Recurrence Means
Recurrence happens when the same type of cancer returns to a person’s body after a duration when the cancer was not detected. If you receive a diagnosis of mesothelioma while the cancer is still in its early stages and the disease is treated aggressively until no signs of the disease are found in your body, this is referred to as complete remission.
Recurrence can happen even if it does not involve the same location where the cancer first started. For example, mesothelioma might have first arisen in a person’s lungs, been successfully treated, then reappeared in a person’s abdomen. In this case, the person would be considered to have recurrent pleural mesothelioma.
The Types of Recurrence
Recurrence might be local, which means that it exists in the same part of a person’s body. Regional recurrence can also happen if cancer returns to a person’s lymph nodes situated close to the cancer’s origin. Recurrence is said to be distant if cancer returns to another body part. Distant recurrence involves cancer that appears in another part of a person’s body other than the location where it originated.
The Difference Between Recurrence and Progression
The term, “progression”, is sometimes confused with cancer recurrence. Recurrence is only considered to occur when cancer cells have previously been completely removed from a person’s body. Progression involves the worsening of cancer that has not been entirely cured. Progression involves the worsening of cancer that has not been completely cured.
Remission from mesothelioma is far from a common occurrence. Treatment can lead to partial remission, though. This means that either half or all of a tumor has been removed. While partial remission often makes people feel like they are healing, cancer has not been removed from a person’s body.
In some situations, it’s challenging to distinguish between progression and recurrence. For example, if cancer has only been gone for several months before returning, you might ask yourself whether the cancer was ever really eliminated from your body. In this situation, it is likely not a progression. Instead, it is more likely that one of two things happened:
- Surgery did not fully remove cancer from your body. Instead, small cancer cells that could not be located were left behind. These cancer cells then grow big enough again to appear on either scans or blood tests. Cancers that appear this way are often aggressive.
- The cancer is treatment-resistant. Unfortunately, cancer cells can end up resisting treatment in the same way that germs grow antibiotic-resistant. As a result, radiation or chemotherapy might kill most of the cancer cells, but some were not damaged enough and survived treatment. Cancer cells of this kind can end up growing again.
The shorter the period between when cancer is believed to be eliminated and when it is rediscovered, the more dire the situation. Most medical providers view recurrence as cancer that returns after no signs of the disease for a minimum of one year.
The Treatment of Cancer Recurrence
Aggressive treatment is the best strategy to avoid the recurrence of mesothelioma. Several types of treatment can eliminate cancer and some of the most common methods include chemotherapy, surgery, and radiation. One recent study even determined that promising survival rates exist following extrapleural pneumonectomy, which is one of the most aggressive surgical options for people with mesothelioma. Some patients involved in this study who received this surgical option were able to avoid recurrence longer than those who did not receive the treatment.
Extrapleural pneumonectomy involves the removal of all tissue from one side of a person’s chest cavity. This includes not just the lung but also the pleura and sections of the diaphragm. A surgeon might remove lymph nodes during this procedure. A person’s diaphragm is then reconstructed with prosthetics. Both radiation and chemotherapy are utilized to eliminate remaining cancer cells that remain in the body. Despite these attempts, recurrence often occurs at some point.
Pleurectomy and decortication involve the removal of the lung’s lining as well as the lining of the heart, diaphragm, and chest wall. The lining around a person’s heart and diaphragm are often reconstructed through the use of mesh. The lung in these cases is not removed which makes the procedure easier to endure than extrapleural pneumonectomy even though both are viewed as major surgeries.
The Two Types of Remission
Remission is considered to be one of two types:
- Complete remission. When treatment fully removes all tumors located on tests or measurements, this is referred to as complete remission. This does not mean that cancer has been cured but instead means that cancer can no longer be spotted on tests.
- Partial remission. Partial remission means that the cancer reacted to treatment, but that the cancer is not yet fully eliminated. Partial response is most often considered to involve at least a 50% reduction in the amount of cancer in a person’s body. A reduction in the size of a person’s tumor must then last for at least a month to constitute a response.
The Role of Second Cancer
Receiving a second cancer diagnosis is different from a recurrence. If testing reveals that cancer is present in a different type of organ, a person would be considered to have 2 types of cancer or 2 primary cancer. These 2 kinds of cancer will arise in different types of cells and look different when studied under a microscope. Having 2 types of cancer is much less common than experiencing a recurrence, but this can and does happen. Remember, just because you have one type of cancer does not mean that you cannot later have another type of cancer.
Dealing with the Recurrence of Mesothelioma
As recurrence becomes more common for those with mesothelioma, people must learn how to cope with such a situation. When mesothelioma can no longer be detected, it often feels like you have prevailed over a difficult situation. Later, if you discover that cancer has returned, however, you might feel like your life is falling apart again. It’s critical to stay on schedule with your surveillance scans and follow-up appointments with your medical provider to locate recurrence as soon as possible. Make sure to report either new or returning symptoms to your medical provider as soon as you notice them. You should also make sure to live as healthy a lifestyle as possible.
Taking Steps to Lower the Risk of Cancer Recurrence
Taking actions like eating a good idea, receiving enough exercise, and visiting with your medical team are all helpful ways to reduce the risk of recurrence. Nothing, however, can fully prevent a recurrence. It’s very common, though, for people who experience a diagnosis of recurrence. Some of the most helpful steps that you can take to remain as healthy as possible include:
- After finishing cancer treatment, many people choose to improve their diet in the hopes that this will help to increase their survival chances. The American Cancer Society suggests that people who survive cancer and are in stable treatment following treatment adhere to the same guidelines as those recommendations suggested for preventing cancer. Many health professionals think that the same factors that raise the risks of cancer also promote cancer recurrence following treatment. Research has suggested that the risk of recurrence might be greater in people obese and who do not eat an adequate amount of vegetables or fruits. Besides eating a sufficient amount of fruits and vegetables, people should also avoid processed meats and sugary beverages.
- Supplements and vitamins. Sometimes people think that vitamins and other supplements can help them prevent a recurrence. Research, however, suggests this is not the case. Some research has revealed that supplements containing high levels of single nutrients can even end up harming cancer survivors. Blood tests can reveal if your levels of certain minerals are low. Based on these results, your medical team might suggest increasing certain amounts of vitamins.
- Some studies have considered the impact of physical activity on the survival of people who have been diagnosed with cancer. Research has been inconclusive about whether exercise can help reduce the risk of cancer recurrence or slow the disease’s progression. Studies, however, have revealed that routine physical activity helps to lower anxiety as well as depression and improve mood. In addition to exercise, cancer survivors should return to normal activities as soon as possible after treatment.
The Emotional Challenge Brought on By Recurrence
If your cancer returns, locate the appropriate people to find support. Communicate with your medical provider to make educated choices about what type of treatment you receive. Many people with mesothelioma also find that they can adequately address emotional issues brought on by a mesothelioma diagnosis through strategies like meditation and therapy.
Unfortunately, mesothelioma recurrence can occur despite living a healthy lifestyle and doing everything appropriately. While you might not be able to cure your cancer later on, by taking the correct steps you can greatly increase your lifespan.
It’s not possible to guarantee that after you have completed cancer treatments, cancer will not return. This remains true even though your medical team might state that the cancer is gone, they believe all cancer has been removed, or see no signs of remaining cancer.
While no one wants to think about the possibility of having a second cancer, this also remains a possibility.
Signs to Look Out for Involving Recurrence
Cancer survivors can fall into the trap of thinking that any ache or pain is the beginning of recurrence. Instead, it’s a much better idea to check with your medical team for signs of recurrence. A limited number of major symptoms indicate serious issues. Some of these substantial symptoms of recurrence include the return of cancer symptoms you previously experienced, unexpected weight loss, fever, chills, recurring headaches, coughs that do not go away, nausea, diarrhea, vomiting, new bumps or bruises, blood in urine or bowel movements, easy bleeding, or allergic reactions.
As soon as you experience a symptom, you might first think that this is a recurrence. To relax in these situations, it’s important to remember that various illnesses and medical issues have nothing to do with your previous cancer.
Consider Attending a Patient Support Group
Some people discover that it is difficult to not be concerned about recurrence. Many people find these thoughts end up becoming an intrusive thought that makes it difficult to continue living daily life. In response, cancer survivors have discovered that either distracting themselves or focusing on what is important to them can help to deal with these negative thoughts. Some other helpful measures include joining support groups or seeing a therapist.
Answers to Commonly Asked Questions About Cancer Recurrence
If cancer returns you should promptly speak with your medical team about your available options
for treatment as well as how effective each option will be. You will likely be full of questions during this time. You should make sure to appreciate the aim of each treatment that you are debating. While some options exist to cure early-stage mesothelioma, many more options exist to control cancer’s progression or to make patients more comfortable. Some questions commonly asked by mesothelioma patients and the subsequent answers include:
- Why can’t you receive the same treatment for recurrence as you did for the first cancer treatment? Some people end up receiving the same types of cancer treatment that they received for their first cancer. Treatment decisions are based on where mesothelioma recurs, when the disease recurs, the degree it has spread, and your overall health. Additionally, cancer cells can grow resistant to chemo. Tumors that return often do not respond to treatment as successfully as the first tumors did. Another reason why your medical provider might utilize a different treatment is due to the risk of side effects. Some chemotherapy drugs can result in heart problems or nerve issues in your hands or feet.
- How long is considered too long to wait and how much will cancer spread while you are waiting for your medical provider to schedule you? Research is still being performed to provide answers to these questions. For most cancers, there is some time that exists before you must choose your treatment options or begin receiving treatment. Cancer cells grow until there are enough cells to form a tumor or a mass that can be found on blood tests, but this process takes time. As a result, cancer patients often have adequate time to choose what treatment option is appropriate for them. Cancer patients often even have enough time to receive a second opinion. You should speak with your medical provider if you are concerned about waiting to begin treatment.
- What are the chances that treatment will work a second time or how long will treatment prolong your life? This is a difficult question to answer. The answer is influenced by various factors including the length of time between the first diagnosis and recurrence, your overall health, and your age. It’s important to remember that the mesothelioma survival rates are often 4 to 18 months following diagnosis. Some patients diagnosed with mesothelioma have lived longer than 10 years, though. The current five-year survival rate for the disease is 10 percent. Your medical team will likely provide you with a window that estimates exactly how long you have left as well as how long treatment is to likely prolong your life.