Lung cancer recurrence occurs when doctors detect lung cancer after a period of the disease being undetectable. It means that the cancer has come back after treatment that was successful in the short term. The cancer recurrence rate is different for small cell and non-small cell lung cancers, and the chances of recurrence depend on various factors.
Although different treatments can eliminate the cancer cells in someone’s lungs, even successful lung cancer treatments cannot guarantee a permanent cure.
This article provides a detailed look at the science of lung cancer recurrence, including the types, signs, likelihood, causes, and risk factors. It also discusses the treatment for lung cancer and the support options and outlook for people living with the disease.
There are three main types of cancer recurrence:
- Local recurrence: The cancer comes back in the same area in which the initial cancer started.
- Regional recurrence: The cancer comes back in the lymph nodes that surround the area in which the initial cancer started.
- Distant recurrence: Cancer appears in a part of the body that is some distance from the area in which the initial cancer started.
Distant recurrent cancers are different than second cancers, which the
People with lung cancer have an
The signs of cancer recurrence will depend on where the cancer has recurred. If the cancer recurs in the lungs, for instance, then the typical signs of recurrent lung cancer will be the same as the common signs of initial lung cancer.
- a persistent or worsening cough
- coughing up blood
- coughing up a rust-colored sputum
- chest pain, which may worsen with laughing, coughing, or deep breathing
- shortness of breath
- appetite loss
- unexplained weight loss
- feeling weak or tired
- recurrent or worsening infections, such as pneumonia
However, if the recurrent cancer arises in a different body part, it could cause other symptoms. Examples include:
The data on the rates of lung cancer recurrence are limited, and there is a need for further large scale research.
However, research from 2020 suggests that
The authors state that the most common form of recurrent lung cancer is a distant cancer of the central nervous system. Such cancers make up around 37% of all recurrent lung cancers.
However, the chance of recurrence can depend on the type of lung cancer:
Non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC)
For people with NSCLC, some
- 5–19% for stage 1
- 11–27% for stage 2
- 24–40% for stage 3
Small cell lung cancer (SCLC)
It is more difficult to find precise estimates of recurrence rates for SCLC.
However, researchers suggest that the
In other cases, the cancer cells may have spread to other areas of the body, forming a tumor elsewhere.
Can a person prevent lung cancer from returning?
- quitting smoking, if applicable, or avoiding secondhand smoke
- eating a well-balanced, nutritious diet
Even if the cancer has spread, quitting smoking may help those with lung cancer live longer. It can also reduce the chance of another lung cancer developing.
More research is necessary to understand the extent to which diet and exercise can influence lung cancer recurrence.
The appropriateness of any given treatment option will depend on:
- when the cancer recurred
- where it recurred
- how much it has spread
- a person’s overall health
- a person’s values and wishes
Recurrent lung cancer treatments could include:
Learn more about treatment for lung cancer.
The outlook for people with recurrent lung cancer will vary greatly. Various factors, including the type and severity of lung cancer and the presence of other conditions, can determine a person’s outlook.
Recurrent lung cancers can also cause serious mental health conditions, such as anxiety and depression. It can be very challenging for someone to survive one lung cancer, only to see it come back. Adequate mental health care is, therefore, often very important.
A person who needs extra support can contact the following organizations:
Anyone who experiences symptoms of lung cancer should promptly seek the advice of a doctor.
Earlier detection of cancer
Below, we answer some frequently asked questions about lung cancer recurrence.
Does lung cancer always come back?
Lung cancers do not always recur.
How long does lung cancer stay in remission?
The duration of remission depends on many factors, and the data are complex.
For instance, research shows that lung cancer recurrence after successful surgery for NSCLC typically occurs at
In contrast, in people with SCLC, the average remission period after second-line treatment is about
No lung cancer treatment is wholly reliable. Even if doctors manage to treat someone’s lung cancer temporarily, there is a chance of the cancer recurring.
If a person notices any symptoms of lung cancer recurrence, they should contact a healthcare professional immediately.