Coping With the Fear of Recurrence

August 19, 2013
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This podcast deals with how to cope with the common fear that cancer will return after treatment is complete.


You're listening to a podcast from Cancer.Net. This cancer information website is produced by the American Society of Clinical Oncology, the world's leading professional organization for doctors that care for people with cancer.

Our topic today is how to cope with the common fear that your cancer will return after treatment is complete.

Many people with cancer have mixed emotions when their treatment for cancer ends. They are often both relieved to be finished with treatment, while at the same time worried that the cancer may come back.

A cancer recurrence is when cancer returns after a period of time when no cancer cells could be detected in the body. It’s natural for a person who has had cancer to think about the disease coming back, especially in the first few years after treatment. These thoughts may include anxiety about having to undergo treatment again, about the impact it will have on your life, or about dying.

While you cannot control whether your cancer will return, it is important to remember that there are things you can do to limit the extent to which worry affects your life.  This podcast will offer you six strategies to help you cope with the fear of recurrence.

First, accept your fears. Trying to push fears from your mind doesn’t work. It is normal to experience some fear about cancer recurrence, and accepting that you are going to experience some worry – as well as focusing on finding ways to manage that fear – helps balance your emotions.

It may also help to know that the fears tend to weaken over time, and that you won’t always feel so worried. Be prepared, though, for certain situations that may heighten your anxiety, such as when you’re scheduled for a follow-up appointment or the anniversary of your diagnosis. You may also feel more frightened when someone you know has been diagnosed with cancer.

Second, express your emotions.  Talking or writing about your thoughts can help reduce your anxiety by helping you explore the issues underlying your fear. Try keeping a journal where you write down your feelings. Or, you may benefit from joining a support group. At support groups, you will find people who understand what you are going through, and members also exchange practical information and helpful suggestions. Participating in a group fosters a sense of belonging, which is comforting by itself.

Third, stay well informed. Most cancers have a predictable pattern of recurrence. Your oncologist can provide you with information about the likelihood of the cancer coming back, when this might occur, and where in your body it may happen. The doctor can also describe symptoms to watch out for. With this information, you are less likely to worry that every ache or pain means the cancer is back.

Fourth, be proactive about follow-up care. Every cancer survivor should have regular checkups and certain tests. Timely follow-up care can mean that any recurrence is caught early. And you may feel more in control if you think of yourself and your doctor as partners in charge of your health care decisions.

Fifth, lead a healthy lifestyle. Eating a well-balanced diet, getting regular physical activity, and getting enough sleep can help you feel better physically and emotionally. This includes avoiding such unhealthy habits as smoking and drinking alcohol in excess. And, explore ways to reduce stress in your life since this will lower your overall level of anxiety. Experiment with stress-reducing methods to see what helps most.  Some things to try include:

  • Spending time with those you love: family, friends, and pets
  • Devoting time to hobbies that you enjoy
  • Taking a walk or a hot bath
  • Meditating
  • Finding time to laugh by reading funny books or watching comedies
  • And, simplifying your life overall, including avoiding too many commitments

The sixth and final piece of advice is to seek professional help if your fears feel overwhelming.  If you are experiencing severe difficulties, ask your doctor for a referral to a counselor. Symptoms may include worrying constantly, feeling hopeless about the future, giving up activities you have enjoyed in the past, difficulty concentrating and making decisions, and being more forgetful than usual. If you think your worries are interfering in your work, harming your relationships, or are a barrier in your recovery, be sure to talk with your doctor. Therapists have many effective ways to help people cope with anxiety or depression.

Remember, as a cancer survivor, it is common to have certain fears -- but keeping them within reasonable boundaries allows you to enjoy your life.

For more information on this topic, contact your doctor or visit Thank you for listening to this Cancer.Net Podcast.