More than one in five people with breast cancer will see the disease return in their lifetime.
New Macmillan Cancer Support research shows on average patients who develop recurrent diseases survive for at least one year after their diagnosis.
Some (5%) were reported as surviving at least 10 years. Just over half of such patients (51%) lived for three years disease-free before they saw the cancer return.
Prior to this study, data were only available on diagnosis and survival of breast cancer.
Dr Adam Glaser, one of the study's principal investigators at St James's Institute of Oncology, Leeds, said the study’s findings are “invaluable” in helping understand how many breast cancer patients are experiencing cancer for the first or second time.”
Jane Maher, Chief Medical Officer of Macmillan Cancer Support, criticised some healthcare professionals for not giving enough practical or emotional support to women with secondary breast cancer.
“Not only do these women have to deal with the shock of their breast cancer returning, but also far too many are given very little practical or emotional support - the assumption being, they know what to expect from the first time they were treated,” she said.
“It is therefore essential that health professionals identify breast cancer recurrence early and take heed of this emerging evidence to better prepare breast cancer patients to help mitigate or cope with a recurrent disease.”
She urged the NHS to prioritise helping patients cope and prepare for recurrent breast cancer.