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Is breast cancer remission really under five years? 

Breast cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer in women. Chances are that we all know someone who has battled it. As if this first battle weren’t enough, breast cancer has a higher rate of recurrence than many other cancers, even after years of remission. For some women, this second diagnosis of cancer is even more draining and discouraging than the first. How long can breast cancer remission last? The answer varies widely from woman to woman.

What Percentage of Breast Cancer Recurs After Five Years Remission

After five years of remission, most other types of cancers are considered “cured”—or at least, the likelihood of recurrence is so low that it may as well be cured. Breast cancer is different; its rate of recurrence is much higher. Five, ten, or even twenty years of remission is no guarantee that the cancer has been truly beaten and will not return.

There are two types of breast cancer remission: partial remission and complete remission. Partial remission means that most signs of breast cancer are gone, but some still persist. Complete remission means that all signs of breast cancer are gone. Even with complete remission, however, microscopic groups of cancer cells can still be in the body, and these are impossible to detect with current technology. Breast cancer cells can hide out in the body for years. How long can breast cancer remission last? If these cells are in a cancer survivor’s body, it may only be a matter of time until the cancer returns.

The majority of breast cancer recurrences happen three to five years after the disease has been in remission. But even after those first five years, there is still significant risk that the cancer will return. Within ten years after initial treatment, between one-third and one-half of breast cancer survivors can come out of remission and experience a recurrence of cancer. Risk of recurrence does decrease with time, but it is always present, even after twenty years of complete remission. Breast cancer survivors are never truly out of the woods.

So how long can breast cancer remission last? It’s impossible to answer that question with any certainty. It depends on a number of factors, like tumor size and whether or not lymph nodes were involved in the original cancer. Large cancers that spread to lymph nodes are statistically more likely to come out of remission, but the sad fact is that even women with small tumors have up to a twelve percent chance of recurrence within ten years of remission. For some women, remission lasts for the rest of their lives. For others, it lasts only a short time.

It’s important for survivors in remission to always stay vigilant with their self-exams and with their appointments with their doctors. It’s easy to feel discouraged by statistics and numbers, but women should always remember that these are only numbers. There are many things women can do to improve their chances of surviving breast cancer, even if it comes out of remission.

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