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Partial or Complete Remission: Why Does Cancer Come Back?

Medically reviewed by Janie-Vi Villamor Ismael-Gorospe, MD · General Practitioner

Written by Fred Layno · Updated May 15, 2022

Partial or Complete Remission: Why Does Cancer Come Back?

Cancer remission is the reduction or disappearance of signs and symptoms of cancer. During partial remission, some signs and symptoms of cancer may disappear. In a complete remission, all signs and symptoms of the cancer will have disappeared, even though the cancer may still be in the body.

Cure Versus Complete Remission

Being cured means that the cancer has disappeared, that no further treatment is needed, and that the cancer is not expected to come back. Doctors are rarely confident that the cancer will never come back. In most cases, it takes time to determine if the cancer will return. However, the longer a person remains cancer free, the more likely it is that the cancer will not come back. If the treatment appears to be successful, doctors will say that the cancer is “in remission” rather than “cured.” 

Remission is the period in which the cancer responds to or is controlled by treatment. Remission can last from weeks to years. Depending on the type of cancer, treatment may or may not be continued during remission. Complete cancer remission can take years, so it may be believed that the cancer has healed over time. If the cancer recurs, further treatment may lead to another remission. 

Why Cancers Might Come Back

Why is sometimes not possible for complete remission to occur? The cancer may come back for some time after the first treatment. This idea can be scary. There are several reasons why the cancer may come back, and the reasons for these are:

  • The original treatment did not kill all the cancer cells, or the remaining cancer cells became new tumors.
  • Some cancer cells spread to other parts of the body, where they grew and began to form tumors.

What Can I Do to Keep Cancer from Coming Back?

Eating healthy, exercising, and visiting your cancer treatment team for follow-up visits are good, but they may not prevent cancer from recurring. Many blame themselves for missing a doctor’s appointment, not eating well, and postponing CT scans for family vacations. But even if you do everything right, sometimes tcancer just comes back.

There are several steps you can take to prevent cancer from returning. 


The American Cancer Society recommends that cancer survivors follow the same nutritional guidelines recommended for cancer prevention, even if they are in stable health after treatment. The same factors that may increase the risk of cancer are also thought to promote the recurrence of cancer after treatment. For example, studies show that obese women who eat less fruits and vegetables may be at increased risk of developing breast cancer. Likewise, men who eat a lot of saturated fat may be at increased risk of recurrence of prostate cancer.

Vitamins and Supplements

When in cancer remission, be careful with the vitamins or supplements you take. Some believe that taking certain vitamins and supplements may help prevent recurrence. Available studies do not support this belief. In fact, some studies have shown that supplements containing high levels of single nutrients can harm cancer survivors.

Blood tests can show if certain vitamin levels are low. Always consult with your cancer treatment team before taking vitamins and other dietary supplements.

Physical Activity

When in cancer remission, it may help to do some exercises or maintain a level of physical activity. Several studies have investigated the effects of physical activity on the survival of cancer patients. However, studies have not yet shown whether physical activity helps prevent cancer recurrence or promote disease. There are studies that show that regular physical activity can reduce anxiety and depression, improve mood, increase self-esteem, and reduce symptoms of fatigue, nausea, pain, and diarrhea. These benefits can be obtained through moderate to intense physical activity on most, if not all, days of the week. 

Getting Help and Support

If it is difficult to cope with cancer and work towards complete remission, it may be helpful to talk to others in the same situation. Alternatively, you can consult a trained counselor. Doing so can help you find a way to deal with fears and worries, and it can lessen stress and anxiety while in cancer remission. 

Learn more about Cancer here.


Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

Medically reviewed by

Janie-Vi Villamor Ismael-Gorospe, MD

General Practitioner

Written by Fred Layno · Updated May 15, 2022

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