Remission vs. Relapse

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cancer-differences_small-4If you or a loved one has gone through a cancer journey, your doctor may have talked to you about the possibility of relapse and remission during and following your treatment. What do these terms mean?

What is remission?

Remission indicates that the signs and symptoms of cancer have completely or partially disappeared in response to treatment.

There are different stages of remission, which may be determined by your specific type of cancer. When treatment completely gets rids the body of cancer cells, it is considered a complete remission.

A partial remission means the cancer partially responded to treatment, but part of the tumor or some cancer cells remain. If a patient has had at least a 50 percent reduction in tumor size, it will typically be considered a partial remission.

Remission is determined when the tumor reduction has stayed the same for at least one month. It is important to know that chronic disease, like cancer, can go through cycles of remission – making it vitally important that patients be diligent with follow up care.

What is a relapse?

A relapse is when cancer returns after a disease-free period.

It is very common among survivors, who have had successful treatment of their cancer, to be worried about cancer returning. Your care team can provide you with a list of common signs of relapse for your specific type of cancer, so that you can feel confident in your survivorship journey.

Talk to your care team if you have any of the following common symptoms:

  • New or unusual pain that is unrelated to injury
  • Easy bleeding or unexplained bruising
  • A rash or allergic reaction
  • Chills or fever
  • Frequent headaches
  • Shortness of breath
  • Bloody stools or blood in your urine
  • Nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, loss of appetite or trouble swallowing
  • A cough that does not go away

Be sure to talk to your care team about any concerns you have after your cancer treatment.

If you have other questions related to remission or relapse, call the 24/7 askSARAH helpline to speak with a registered nurse.

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