January 13, 2023

How Can You Tell if Lung Cancer is Recurring?

How Can You Tell if Lung Cancer is Recurring?

Lung cancer is the second most common cancer. Even with modern-day cancer treatment options, lung cancer can return after remission. Lung cancer recurrence is most likely to happen in the first five years following treatment. This is why it’s important for lung cancer survivors to stay on schedule with follow-up oncology appointments and know the signs of lung cancer recurrence.

Lung Cancer Recurrence Overview

The likelihood of your lung cancer returning after treatment depends on your type of lung cancer and the stage it was in when you got treatment. There are two main types of lung cancer: Non-small-cell lung cancer (NSCLC) and small-cell lung cancer (SCLC). The likelihood of recurrence is very dependent on this as well.

One study found that patients with non-small cell lung cancer who underwent surgical resection had a 30-75% chance of recurrence. If you had a NSCLC diagnosis, your chance of cancer recurrence also depends on the stage of cancer. When you initially receive a cancer diagnosis, your doctor will use a staging system to determine how far the cancer has spread throughout your body.

Small cell lung cancer (SCLC) is the most aggressive type of lung cancer, and unfortunately, more likely to recur. Typically, SCLC will respond well to treatment initially, but most patients will experience a recurrence within one or two years.

Types of Lung Cancer Recurrence

Like there are different types of lung cancer, there are different types of lung cancer recurrences. Lung cancer recurrence is categorized based on where the cancer returns. The three types are local recurrence, regional recurrence, and distant recurrence.

  • Local recurrence occurs when cancer returns to the lung near where it first appeared.

  • Regional recurrence occurs when cancer grows in the lymph nodes near the tumor's original site.

  • Distant recurrence happens when the lung cancer appears in a new site far from where it first was found, such as in the brain, bones, adrenal glands, or liver.

Some patients treated for lung cancer can develop an entirely new type of cancer in another area of the body after the lung cancer has gone into remission. This is not the same as a recurrence and is referred to as a second cancer.

To distinguish between a lung cancer recurrence and a second cancer, your doctor will likely order a biopsy in which your cancer cells will be examined under a microscope. If the cells look the same as the original cancer cells, they will be diagnosed as a recurrence. If they have a unique appearance, your doctor will know that it is a new type of cancer.

Signs of Lung Cancer Recurrence

Signs of lung cancer recurrence can be similar to general lung cancer symptoms, such as fatigue, weakness, and weight loss. As you may remember from the initial diagnosis, there aren’t always obvious symptoms of cancer growing in the lungs. This means it may not be obvious if it’s recurred. That’s why follow-up exams and imaging are very important to catch any recurrence as early as possible.

If the cancer is growing locally or regionally, you may experience signs such as:

  • Cough

  • Coughing up bloody sputum

  • Wheezing

  • Pneumonia

  • Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath

If your cancer has spread to a distant location, such as the bones, brain, or liver, you may experience any of the following:

  • Deep pain in the chest, back, arms, legs, or shoulders.

  • Dizziness

  • Visual issues like double vision or impaired vision

  • One-sided weakness of the body

  • Poor coordination

  • Abdominal pain

  • Yellowing of the eyes and skin also called jaundice

  • Itching

  • Confusion

What Causes Lung Cancer Recurrence?

A recurrence is caused by the spread of the original type of cancer found in the lungs. Even after your cancer has gone into remission, it is possible for smaller cancer cells to linger still that are too small to be detected on imaging scans. These cells can grow into a new tumor at the original site or spread through the blood to grow in new parts of the body.

Certain risk factors make individuals more likely to develop lung cancer, such as smoking. If you do not modify these types of risk factors, it's much more likely for your cancer to recur. Smoking alone increases the risk of lung cancer recurrence significantly.

Sometimes, chemotherapy or radiation treatment can cause secondary cancer to develop. When radiation therapy leads to a new cancer, it is referred to as radiation-induced secondary malignancies (RISM).

Treatment Options for Lung Cancer Recurrence

There are several different treatment options for lung cancer recurrence. Your doctor will create a treatment plan based on your unique situation. Curing lung cancer after it has returned is often difficult because it is usually in a later stage once it returns.

Treatment options for lung cancer recurrence typically strive to increase survival time and improve quality of life. Common treatment options are listed below.

  • Targeted therapies for non-small cell lung cancer have become available recently thanks to a surge in our understanding of the human genome. These drugs target specific gene mutations found in the cancer cells. By targeting a specific mutation, cancer cell growth can be slowed or stopped. Your oncologist may discuss biomarker testing or genomic testing to see if a drug can be used to target your specific type of NSCLC.

  • Chemotherapy is a common approach to treating lung cancer recurrence. Your doctor may choose a different chemotherapy drug than you have been given since recurrent lung cancer can mutate and resist previously used drugs.

  • Radiation therapy is usually used modestly if you've already tried it in the past since it has a limit due to its potential for adverse side effects. It can be helpful to treat tumors in areas other than the lungs.

Surgery is not a typical approach to lung cancer recurrence but can sometimes help if you have a localized or isolated tumor.

Lung Cancer Treatment in Brevard County, Florida

At Cancer Care Centers of Brevard, we offer our patients personalized cancer care and the latest treatments for lung cancer. If you have been diagnosed with recurrent lung cancer, our cancer centers are located in Melbourne, Merritt Island, Rockledge, and Palm Bay, Florida, so you do not have to travel far to receive quality cancer care locally. We also offer access to clinical trials through our Brevard County locations. Request an appointment with one of our lung cancer doctors today for a consultation and to discuss which treatments are available for you.


Categories: Lung Cancer