Cancer relapses in young people

A few of the young people that we interviewed said that they had had a recurrence of their cancer after months or even years of remission (where their cancer had appeared to be cured, at least for a period of time). Here they talk about how they found out that their cancer had returned, their reactions, their new treatments, the side effects of having further treatment and what it felt like to be young and be diagnosed with cancer for a second time.
Young people who have had cancer are normally followed up by the hospital where they had had their first treatment, for a number of years. Sometimes a reoccurrence (relapse) of the original cancer is identified on scans or blood tests at one of the follow up appointments, or you might notice symptoms yourself and go back to the doctor to find out what is wrong.
Needless to say discovering that the cancer has returned can be a dreadful shock - especially if you had been feeling physically well and had returned to normal life. Many young people reacted in disbelief.

It can be a doctor’s manner even more than what they say that can give away the fact that they think something further is wrong. One young man said that his doctors were not direct and referred to ’raised markers’ rather than saying ’You’ve got another tumour’.
The types of treatments that are given when a cancer reoccurs can be different than those used when the cancer was first treated - for example more intensive treatment may be used, or used before and after surgery. The more intensive doses meant that some had more discomfort and pain the second time around.

One young man, for whom chemotherapy did not work, had a very large number of radiotherapy sessions that finally succeeded in shrinking the tumour. Other young people had other procedures including a bone marrow transplant and a stem cell transplant. 
Almost all of them said that their treatment was excellent and highly praised the NHS and the speed and kindness with which they were treated.

Obviously it is totally devastating to be diagnosed as having cancer again, but some said they were less scared the second time around because they knew what to expect from treatment and from hospital life. Those few who had joined a teenage cancer support group were aware of, or knew, others who had relapsed.

The young people we interviewed were very philosophical about their relapses. Even though they knew that their chances of total recovery were worse after the relapse (and some had been really frightened and angry), they pointed out that it was pointless being negative. One young woman said that although you can feel it’s unfair, you have to recognise that it’s out of your control and just get on with treatment.

Last reviewed December 2017.

Last updated November 2014.


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