What Does Cancer Remission Mean?

What does it mean when cancer is in remission? Is it the same as a cure?

Certain long-term illnesses and cancers go through periods in which they improve or disappear altogether. This is called going into remission. Being in remission does not mean that a disease has been completely cured, but it does mean that the first step towards recovery have taken place. When all signs and symptoms of disease disappear, a complete remission is said to have occurred - but even this is not the same as a cure. For a disease to be considered cured, doctors require complete remission for a substantial period of time - with cancer, this is usually 5 years. When remissions occur, medical treatment shifts focus from combating the disease to extending periods of improvement and continuing careful monitoring to detect any returning symptoms. The outlook for cancer is improving all the time. With today's treatments, many cancer patients than ever before will be alive and well 5 years after their original diagnosis. About half can expect to live out the full, normal human lifespan - and this figure does not include cases of the easily cured basal cell and squamous skin cancers, which rarely lead to loss of life. Even if a cancer does not go into remission, patients can still live with it for 10 years or more in some cases.

More Specific Guides: Spotting When Symptoms Come Back

Breast cancer recurrence: symptoms, prognosis and treatment.
Cervical cancer recurrence: signs, risk factors and outlook.
Endometrial cancer recurrence: when womb cancer returns.
Ovarian cancer recurrence: how likely is it to come back?
Vaginal cancer recurrence: prognosis and treatment options.
Vulva cancer recurrence: statistics, prognosis and therapies.
Fallopian tube cancer recurrence: rare condition, see risk factors.

How To Help Yourself

Fighting cancer is not just a job for doctors. Patients need to take control too.

1. Keep all medical appointments and follow your doctor's advice exactly.
2. Make sure you have a healthy, nutritious diet, and increase the proportion of protein and fat to give yourself extra energy. Drink soups, milkshakes, or milk instead of water, tea or coffee. See our list of top cancer fighting foods.
3. Exhaustion is a normal part of the disease and its treatment. You might need a nap in the afternoon or a few extra hours of sleep at night.
4. Take exercise to stay fit and prevent stiffness, sores, constipation, breathing problems and other conditions related to inactivity. Your doctor can help you to draw up an exercise plan or, if you prefer, just take a walk every day.
5. Continue your normal sex life. Physical intimacy is therapeutic and almost always possible. If in doubt, or if there are problems such as pain, ask your doctor for help.
6. Talk openly to close family and friends about what you are going through and how you feel about it - isolation makes things worse.
7. Fight with your mind as well as your body. Try imagining the cells of your immune system vanquishing cancer cells. Relaxation, breathing and meditation can help. See also, alternative treatments for cancer.
8. If your prognosis is uncertain, talk to your doctor about suitable cancer clinical trials.

Related Questions
What is the best treatment for cancer?

• Need more information? See: Cancer Guide
• Got another question? See: Womens Health Questions

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WOMENS HEALTH ADVICE: ABOUT QUESTIONS ON FEMALE HEALTH
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