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Cancer

What Does `In Complete Remission` Mean?

09/08/2009

Question:

My best friend had chemo and radiation for breast cancer. After she finished her treatments they did a bone scan and said she was "in complete remission." What does that mean? Does it mean that she doesn`t have cancer any more? Or does it mean she doesn`t need more treatment but she still has cancer? I am concerned about my friend and I don`t know what all these terms mean. She is still on medical leave from her job and isn`t sure whether she wants to go back to work or not. She is still tired all the time, is that normal after cancer treatment?

Answer:

The term 'in complete remission' means that there is no sign of cancer on scans/x-rays. It does not mean that the there is not more cancer; just that it cannot be seen. Sometimes 'complete remission' equals cure, and sometimes it does not. People in remission may still need additional treatments. It is normal to be tired after cancer treatments. To better understand whether to go back to work or not, I advise that your friend have a frank discussion with her oncologist about her prognosis and the chance of her cancer recurring.

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Response by:

Paula  Silverman, MD Paula Silverman, MD
Associate Professor of Medicine
School of Medicine
Case Western Reserve University