Breast cancer recurrence

Breast cancer that comes back is called a recurrence. There are different types of recurrence.

About breast cancer recurrence

Breast cancer that comes back is called a recurrence. There are different types of recurrence. Breast cancer may come back in the area where it started or in another part of the body.

Symptoms of breast cancer recurrence

After breast cancer treatment you may worry that any symptom you have is caused by the cancer. It can be hard to know what to look out for. You will still get the normal aches and pains everyone gets. Some symptoms may be caused by treatment side effects.

It is important to let your cancer doctor or nurse know about any symptoms or side effects that do not improve. If you notice anything unusual between appointments, contact your cancer doctor or breast care nurse straight away.

Your breast care nurse can tell you what to expect after treatment. They can explain what to look for in the treated breast, your chest area (if you had a mastectomy) and in the lymph nodes close to the breast

It is also important to know what to look out for in your untreated breast. We have more information about the signs and symptoms of breast cancer to help you.

Breast cancer that comes back in another part of the body is called secondary breast cancer. We also have information about possible symptoms of secondary breast cancer

Local and regional recurrence

Breast cancer that comes back in the treated breast, chest or scar is called a local recurrence. Having a local recurrence does not mean the cancer has spread.

Breast cancer that comes back in the lymph nodes in the armpit, close to the breast bone, or lower neck, is called a regional recurrence. If cancer cells are blocking the lymph nodes in the armpit, fluid can build up in the arm and cause lymphoedema.


To diagnose a local or regional recurrence you have some of the same tests you had to diagnose primary breast cancer.

Your doctor may also recommend further tests to check that the cancer cells have not spread to other parts of the body.


Your treatment will depend on the treatment you have already had for breast cancer. Your doctor and nurse will talk to you about the most effective treatment for you.

Treatments for local or regional recurrence may include:

Secondary breast cancer

If tests show the cancer has spread to other parts of the body, such as the bones or lungs, this is called secondary breast cancer.

Learning you have secondary breast cancer may be harder than dealing with the first diagnosis. There are different treatments for secondary breast cancer that may help to control it for many years. We have more information about secondary breast cancer.

About our information

  • References

    Below is a sample of the sources used in our breast cancer information. If you would like more information about the sources we use, please contact us at

    European Society for Medical Oncology. Primary breast cancer: ESMO clinical practice guidelines for diagnosis, treatment and follow-up. Annals of oncology 26 (supplement 5): v8–v30. 2015.

    Morrow M, et al. Chapter 79: malignant tumors of the breast. DeVita, Hellman and Rosenberg’s cancer: principals and practice of oncology (10th edition). Lippincott Williams and Wilkins. 2014.

    National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE). Early and locally advanced breast cancer: diagnosis and management. July 2018.

    Scottish Intercollegiate Guidelines Network. SIGN 134. Treatment of primary breast cancer: a national clinical guideline. September 2013.

  • Reviewers

    This information has been written, revised and edited by Macmillan Cancer Support’s Cancer Information Development team. It has been reviewed by expert medical and health professionals and people living with cancer. It has been approved by Senior Medical Editor, Dr Rebecca Roylance, Consultant Medical Oncologist.

    Our cancer information has been awarded the PIF TICK. Created by the Patient Information Forum, this quality mark shows we meet PIF’s 10 criteria for trustworthy health information.