Fear of cancer coming back (recurrence)

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Many people expect to feel relieved and happy when they finish their cancer treatment. For some, however, these feelings may be mixed with anxiety and fear about the future. A common concern for cancer survivors is that the cancer may come back (recurrence) in the future.

For many, this fear will lessen over time. Some people may experience increased fear at times such as follow-up appointments and investigations.

When cancer treatment finishes, many people have to adjust to the reduced number of appointments and follow-ups with their team. Some people feel lost and alone at this stage. You can continue to contact your team or your GP if you have any questions or concerns.

How fear of recurrence can affect you

A fear of recurrence can affect you both emotionally and physically. Some people may experience emotions such as worry, fear, anger and sadness. This fear can affect the way people behave and how they respond to situations. Some people may be on high alert and others may avoid following up on concerns or avoid talking about cancer.

Certain situations and events can trigger feelings of fear about recurrence:

  • Around the time of appointments, scans and tests
  • When you have new symptoms or symptoms similar to those when you were first diagnosed
  • When other people are diagnosed with cancer
  • The death of a family member of friend
  • Reading or hearing media reports about cancer
  • Visiting the hospital you were diagnosed or treated in

Knowing what situations make you worried can help. Recognising these situations and emotions will help you to develop coping mechanisms. It is natural to get worried at certain times but not every symptom is recurrence.

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Coping with fear of recurrence

Many people find it helpful to talk about their fears with a friend of family member. Talking about these feelings can help alleviate some of the fear. Talking it over can help you understand your fears and the reasons behind them.

Many people benefit from talking to others who have been through similar experiences and understand the fear of recurrence. Knowing that others have experienced similar feelings can help. You can speak with others at support group meetings at your local cancer support centre or through the Irish Cancer Society survivor support programme.

It is important that you know and understand your follow-up care plan. Knowing that your team is monitoring you closely and understanding what your follow-up plan entails can help reduce the fear of recurrence. Even when you do not have the same in-person contact with your team, it is important to know that you can still contact them with any concerns.

Feeling anxious before follow-up tests and leading up to appointments is normal. Scheduling activities may help distract you in the days leading up to these appointments. Talking with friends or family, going for walks or scheduling activities you enjoy may help lessen the anxiety.

Talking to your doctor or nurse about your fear of recurrence may help. They may help put your worries in perspective and talk through your concerns and fears. You can also contact one of the cancer nurses on the Support Line if you would like to talk. The Support Line number is 1800 200 700, Monday – Friday, 9am – 5pm.

For more information

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1800 200 700

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