In some cases, lung cancer can come back following the initial treatment. This is known as a recurrence.

There are three different types of lung cancer recurrence
There are three different types of lung cancer recurrence

Lung cancer is more likely to recur in the first five years following diagnosis, which is why it is important for you to have regular check-ups.

You will need to be followed-up long term following lung cancer surgery. This is called lung cancer surveillance and is important as, even through your operation may have been a complete success, there remains a chance that your lung cancer could come back.

What does recurrence mean?

A recurrence can be defined by where it occurs when lung cancer comes back. There are three different types of recurrence:

  • Local: When cancer comes back in the lung, near the original tumour
  • Regional: When cancer recurs in lymph nodes near the original tumour
  • Distant: When lung cancer recurs in sites such as the bones, brain, adrenal glands or liver

The chance that lung cancer will recur depends on many factors, including the type of lung cancer, the stage of lung cancer at which it is diagnosed, and the treatments for the original cancer.

Why does lung cancer come back?

Lung cancer can sometimes recur after surgery because:

  • Some lung cancer cells were left behind during the operation
  • Some lung cancer cells had already broken away from the primary tumour but were too small to see

Your surgeon may recommend more treatment if they feel that there is a risk that the cancer could recur. This is called adjuvant therapy.

This extra treatment might be chemotherapy, radiotherapy, hormone therapy or a targeted cancer drug. These treatments aim to try to control or kill any cancer cells left.

Can recurrent lung cancer be cured?

Outcomes for recurrent lung cancer will depend on many factors. These include:

  • The site of recurrence
  • The type of lung cancer
  • Your general health
  • The treatments that are chosen to treat the recurrence.

Some people experience a good quality of life for many years following a recurrence of lung cancer.

Looking after your mental health

Dealing with a recurrence, or even the prospect of a recurrence, can have a serious impact on your mental health.

It is really important that you look after yourself both mentally and physically.

Mandee uses CBT techniques to help her cope

I had an occupational health appointment through work and they told me I was depressed. I had cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). I had it for four months. It didn’t start working until the 8th session when something just clicked. I still have bad days, but I can cope a bit better with them now. I’ve got some coping mechanisms and it’s really helped with everyday life.

Mandee, living with lung cancer

If you are struggling, speak to your GP or lung cancer nurse specialist.