What Comes After Cancer Treatment: Understanding RemissionAuthor: Diplomat Pharmacy Date: April 21, 2020
Remission. Recurrence. Relapse. Response. Just as the treatment for a chronic health condition is complicated, the definition of successful treatment is complex too.
People who have chronic conditions, such as cancer, will often hope to be “in remission” — but what does that mean? The definition of “remission” varies for each condition, but usually it’s different from being cured. Here’s an example of what remission generally means for people who have cancer.
Remission means that at least some of your cancer has gone away for a month or more. Some doctors might also call this a response. Generally, you’ll hear about two types of remission:
- Partial remission or partial response can mean that a tumor has gotten smaller with treatment. For a cancer that occurs throughout the body, such as leukemia, it can also mean that the amount of cancer cells has lowered. Often, although not always, partial remission means that at least 50% of your cancer is gone.1
- Complete remission or complete response means that all signs of your cancer are gone — it doesn’t show up on any tests or other examinations. Sometimes complete remission is also called NED: no evidence of disease.
Recurrence: When Cancer Returns
Remission doesn’t mean that your cancer won’t come back, so your healthcare team will keep checking for signs of cancer even after you’re in remission. If your cancer does come back, it’s called a recurrence. Some doctors might also call this a relapse.
Cancer doesn’t always recur, though. If your cancer has been in remission for at least five years, your doctors might say that it’s “cured” or that you’re “cancer-free.” Many types of cancer can’t be completely cured — but after five years, the chance of a recurrence drops. You will likely still have periodic follow-up testing with your doctor to make sure your cancer hasn’t returned.
Staying Healthy in Remission
Although there’s no guaranteed way to keep your cancer from recurring, there are some steps you can take to help lower your chances of a recurrence:
- Eat a healthy diet with a lot of fresh fruits, vegetables, and whole grains — these help you get the phytonutrients you need. (If you’re a Diplomat patient, you can schedule a call with our dietitian to learn what kind of diet would work for you.)
- Don’t smoke. If you currently smoke, talk with your doctor about how you can quit. Our tips can help.
- Get regular exercise.
- Take steps to manage your stress.
Technically, a cancer survivor is anyone who has been diagnosed with cancer — but many people who have cancer feel that their diagnosis is too early to use that term. Often, people will call themselves survivors when their cancer has gone into complete remission, or when they’re declared cancer-free. But people who still have cancer in their bodies can live active and fulfilling lives, too.
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