What Does It Mean When Cancer Goes Into Remission?
Cancer is a general term that explains a particular phenomenon in which cells begin to grow and reproduce uncontrollably. While nearly every cell in the body can reproduce, with cancer, the DNA in a cancerous cell is defective due to a mutation. Thus, the cells that are reproducing are not healthy, and they continue to grow.
At first, many cancers begin in one organ, and the cancerous cells form tumors. Unfortunately, cancer can spread outside one area to other tissues and metastasize – that is, spread to other parts of the body.
Currently, there are several ways that cancer can be treated. One method is surgery, which removes the cancerous tumor(s) and sometimes the surrounding tissues or the organ where the cancer is located. Another method is chemotherapy, which involves ingestion or IV delivery of certain chemicals formulated to kill the cancerous cells. A course of chemotherapy may last several months. Radiation is an alternative treatment in which high doses of radiation are directed at the cancerous cells to damage the DNA in those cells to prevent them from reproducing. Radiation therapy may be short-lived but can take as long as seven weeks or more. In addition to these methods, there are additional therapies like immunotherapy, which stimulates a person’s immune system to try to fight cancer internally.
The therapy an oncologist recommends will depend upon the type of cancer being treated, and more than one therapy may be recommended. When patients complete a course of treatment, their oncologists will order tests to determine whether the cancer has responded to the treatment. If the treatment is successful and the cancer has stopped growing, it is in remission.
So What Happens If There Is Remission?
Remission means that the cancer cells have stopped growing and dividing. This is a good sign that the cancer has responded to the prescribed treatment. However, it is not quite the same thing as being cured.
Remission indicates that cancer has shrunk. In some cases, doctors will be unable to find any trace of cancer remaining (designated NED, or “no evidence of disease”). While patients may experience health effects from the treatment regimen, in many cases, they may no longer experience any cancer symptoms. In addition, patients whose cancer has gone into remission may be able to stop treatment.
In other cases, tests will indicate that cancer has gotten smaller or there is less in your body, called partial remission. With partial remission, you may be able to take a break from treatment. However, it will be essential to monitor your condition to keep tabs on whether the partial remission lasts. If it is temporary, you may have to resume treatment.
Whenever cancer goes into remission, it is good news. It means that the treatment is effective, even if it cannot yet be considered curative. However, it means you can go into a different stage of your treatment: the monitoring stage. During this stage, you will not have active treatment. Still, you will need to see your doctor regularly, more often in the first few years, and then, if the cancer remains in remission, at longer intervals. You will need physical exams, blood tests, and imaging tests. During this stage, you should see your doctor anytime you notice symptoms.
After five years of complete remission, some doctors will consider you cured. However, cancer cells can stay in your body even years after treatment, so it’s best to monitor the situation even after the five-year mark.
Can Cancer Come Back?
Certain types of cancer, such as glioblastoma, ovarian cancer, and soft tissue carcinomas, are more likely to recur. Others, like kidney cancer and Hodgkin’s lymphoma, don’t often recur. However, every patient is different, and you cannot assume your cancer won’t return.
Your doctor will give you a prognosis that includes the likelihood of recurrence and measures you can take to reduce your risk. You should regard remission as a sign of hope. It should give you the strength and courage to take control of your health by eating right, exercising regularly, avoiding alcohol and nicotine, and avoiding stressful situations to keep cancer at bay. Remission is an important milestone in the fight against cancer and something you should celebrate. Enjoy this time of your life, and stay positive.
If your cancer does return, even if it occurs in the same area or a different part of your body, you will have more knowledge, experience, and resources to fight it. So stay alert and continue seeing your doctor for regular monitoring check-ups.
Do I Still Need Help from a Cancer Treatment Center When I Am In Remission?
Once you’re in remission, you won’t need as much help as before. However, staying connected to your specialists is crucial because it allows your doctors to monitor your health and help you avoid or address a recurrence of your cancer.
At Beacon Clinic, we know that cancer is unlike many other diseases. Not only does treatment extend over a long period, but it can affect your entire life and your family’s life in many ways: physically, financially, and emotionally. Even more, when you are done with treatment, you may still need supportive and rehabilitative services to see you through. If you have been diagnosed with cancer and are or will be undergoing treatment, contact Beacon Clinic to find out how we can assist you during your cancer journey. We provide an array of medical and support services for every aspect of your life with cancer.