Remission in cancer happens when cancer treatment reduces or eliminates the amount of cancer in your body. It can be complete remission, meaning there isn’t any sign of cancer; or partial remission, meaning cancer has decreased or stopped growing. Remission from cancer may last for months or years.
The term “remission” means that cancer treatment reduced or eliminated the symptoms and signs of cancer. Remission may last for months, years or the rest of your life. Remission may not mean you’re free of cancer (cured), but it’s an important turning point for you and your cancer care team.
Cancer is considered in complete remission when there isn’t any evidence of cancer on physical exam, blood work or imaging tests.
For example, if you have lung cancer that’s in complete remission, your symptoms will have improved and your computed tomography (CT) scan will show the cancer has disappeared.
Complete remission doesn’t mean cancer is gone forever. Cancer can come back (recur). Even if you have cancer in remission, it’s important you follow up with your cancer team so they can make sure the cancer remains in remission.
Cancer is in partial remission if imaging and blood tests show cancerous tumors are at least 50% smaller than they were before treatment and/or tumor cells don’t appear to be growing. With certain kinds of blood cancer, partial remission means there are fewer cancerous cells in your blood.
You may have heard or read about people who had “spontaneous remission” or cancer that disappeared without traditional medical treatment. Medical researchers have documented cases of spontaneous remission, but it’s extremely rare.
Some oncologists — healthcare providers who specialize in treating cancer — consider cancer to be cured if people have no signs or symptoms of cancer for at least five years after finishing treatment.
That depends on the type of cancer you have. In some cases, your oncologist may start maintenance therapy. This ongoing cancer treatment keeps cancer in remission for as long as possible.
You’ll need to see your oncologist regularly, even if you’re receiving maintenance therapy, so they can monitor your overall health and do blood and imaging tests to look for signs of cancer.
This is important. Catching cancer as soon as it comes out of remission means your cancer team can quickly treat the recurring cancer (cancer that’s come back.)
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No. Here are some reasons why not all cancer goes into remission:
That depends on the type of cancer. Thanks to newer cancer treatments, some but not all advanced cancers (Stage IV cancer) may go into partial or complete remission. If you have a form of advanced cancer, ask your oncologist what you can expect.
Cancer can remain in remission for months or years. Remission times vary, depending on factors such as cancer type, stage and how the cancer responded to initial treatment.
Cancer may come back (recur) if cancer treatment doesn’t eliminate all cancer cells. Sometimes, cancer cells that are too small to see with the naked eye may start growing and spreading. Other times, cancer may come back because it finds ways to grow despite treatment.
Yes. In some cases, people go through cycles of remission and recurrence. When cancer comes back, healthcare providers may try the same or different treatments with the goal of putting the cancer back into remission.
Living with cancer in remission may feel like riding an emotional rollercoaster. You may feel happy and relieved that treatment put cancer in remission, but at the same time, worry cancer will come back.
Here are some suggestions that may help manage living with cancer in remission:
A note from Cleveland Clinic
It’s the news you’ve been hoping for and waiting to hear: You’re in remission. Cancer treatment has put the condition into complete or partial remission, which means you don’t have cancer symptoms or signs, or the treatment is keeping cancer from growing. It’s not a cure, at least not yet. But even so, it’s time to celebrate an important turning point in your cancer journey. It’s also time to take stock of your health and get ready for what’s next. Your healthcare providers understand the challenges of living with cancer in remission. They’ll be happy to help you as you navigate living with cancer in remission.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 02/06/2023.
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