• Cancer

    Connect with other patients who have fear of cancer recurrence

a worried middle-aged couple talking with a health care provider in her office

"Fear of recurrences is a very real thing, I am part of a couple survivor groups and I would say almost all who admit it to themselves, fear it. Especially if the treatments were very hard. Some people run to the doc with each ache and pain, some people avoid the docs like the plague. Some try to outrun cancer by being the invinceable energizer bunny, and some just suffer in silence. Some like myself have tried all or most of these methods at one time or another." - Mayo Clinic Connect member

Fear of cancer recurrence, or the reappearance of prior cancer, is one of the biggest concerns following cancer treatment. It is natural to worry about cancer recurrence. Some fear of recurrence is normal, but excessive fear can lead to decreased quality of life, including problems sleeping and eating, difficulty concentrating and making decisions, and withdrawal from participating in activities that once provided joy and fulfillment. An increase in physical problems, distress and risk of post-traumatic stress disorder also may result.

Connect with other patients who are discussing their concern about cancer recurrence.

Fortunately, there are several ways to manage the fear of cancer recurrence:

  • Talk to your health care provider about your fears of recurrence.
    Your health care provider can help put your worries into perspective.
  • Be proactive and well-informed.
    Most cancers have a predictable pattern of recurrence. Have a conversation with your health care provider, who can tell you about the chances of cancer recurrence and the symptoms to look for. Ask about steps you can take to reduce your risk of recurrence. Sometimes focusing on what actions you can take can help you manage and move past your fears.
  • Name your fears.
    Is it more than just the fear of cancer coming back? Are you afraid of pain? Are you afraid of the outcome and what it means for your children? Identifying the fear will help you determine the steps needed to cope and manage them.
  • Get emotional support.
    Open up and share your fears with a family member, friend, counselor or support group. Talking to someone helps lessen the loneliness that accompanies fear.
  • Find a coping method.
    Distraction is an excellent coping method because it will take your mind off of your fear. Distraction can take many forms:
    – Start an exercise program.
    – Find a creative outlet, such as painting, listening to music or journaling.
    – Try qi gong — a breathing technique combined with meditation. Studies suggest qi gong may help with cancer fatigue and benefit the immune system.
  • Become an advocate for others with cancer.
    Other people also struggle with fear of recurrence. Share these tips and how you used them to help others manage fear.

Don’t live in fear. Don’t let the worry and stress of cancer recurrence overwhelm you. Talk to your health care provider who can help you identify ways to manage the fear and other accompanying emotions.

This article is written by Kaye Holt, an oncology nurse practitioner with the Mayo Clinic Health System.

Visit Mayo Clinic Connect to meet people living with breast cancer or caring for someone with breast cancer.

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