Understanding and Managing the Fear of Cancer Recurrence


The Question On All Cancer Survivors’ Minds: What If It Comes Back?

According to a research paper published in the Oncology Journal, “fear of cancer recurrence is prevalent, distressing, and long-lasting, and can negatively impact patients’ quality of life, use of health services, and adherence to follow-up.” In other words, fear of cancer coming back is an issue for survivors. Without professional help, the study states, this fear will not necessarily get better over time – even in cancer survivors whose actual risk of cancer recurrence is low.

This means your concern about the cancer returning is normal. However, for some, it can take over your thoughts and interfere with your daily life.

Tips for Managing Fear of Cancer Recurrence

By being diligent about regular post-cancer checkups and screenings and following your oncologist’s instructions about diet, exercise, medication, and lifestyle changes, you can take control of your fear of recurrence. According to an American Cancer Society report on cancer treatment and survivorship:

  • Post-treatment physical activity reduces the risks of cancer recurrence and increases overall survival rates.
  • Remaining overweight or obese after treatment reduces long-term survival rates.
  • Smoking after cancer treatment increases the risk of cancer recurrence.

The harder part is learning not to obsess about the things you simply cannot control. Helpful tools for learning to cope with the fear of cancer recurrence include:

  • Participating in a cancer survivor support group
  • Discussing your concerns with your oncology team
  • Seeking professional help from a therapist
  • Practicing mindfulness-based stress reduction or meditation strategies

Even when cancer survivors do everything right, cancer sometimes recurs. Worrying will not prevent cancer from returning! You can make yourself sick with worry thinking about cancer recurrence or you can learn to redirect your thoughts about this fear and avoid dwelling on the topic. When you live in fear of recurrence, you’re robbing yourself of precious cancer-free moments you can and should be enjoying!

Learn More About Compass' Cancer Survivorship Program