When Cancer Strikes Twice

Survivors developing the disease more than once are on the rise in the U.S.


New research has found that almost one-in-five new cancer cases are occurring in people who’ve already had the disease. In the 1970s, the incidence of second-or-more cancer cases was about nine per cent, but the new study shows that number has now risen to 19 per cent.

Experts are viewing the new rates as a bit of a success story: it shows people are living long enough to get cancer more than once. Causes of second cancers include gene mutations or risk factors such as smoking, which may have caused the first cancer. While treatments have improved significantly in recent years, in some cases radiation treatment, which likely saved a patient the first time, is to blame for a new cancer forming in their body later on.

Second cancers present challenges to medical teams and patients alike, including limited treatment options. For example, radiation is not usually given in the same part of the body more than once, and some drugs can only be administered so many times, to avoid permanent nerve damage.

The experts have some advice for cancer survivors, to mitigate risks and be prepared for the future: they include having a formal survivorship plan, including a record of treatments received, keeping up with screenings for other types of cancer and having any recommended tests, such as colonoscopies.

For those who face a second diagnosis, experts advise ­patients check all available resources, including social media, to keep abreast of new treatment options and developments.

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