Cancer and relapse

Relapse is the term used if cancer comes back at any time after a child has been in remission (whether in the same place it was first diagnosed or in other places in the body), 

In most cases, childhood cancer responds well to initial treatment and the disease can be controlled.   

Maintenance phase

When all evidence of the cancer is gone, the term ‘complete remission’ (or simply ‘remission’) is used. 

This is regarded as the first step in achieving cure. However, it is necessary to continue therapy beyond remission, so that any microscopic residual cancer cells living undetected in the body are destroyed.

This phase of treatment is referred to as ‘maintenance’ if it is leukaemia and ‘adjuvant therapy’ if it is a solid tumour.

The duration and the intensity of this phase of treatment will depend on the type and extent of the original cancer.

While relapse is a major setback and makes cure more difficult to achieve, treatment can be reintroduced to maximise the chance of recovery. 

If you are concerned about relapse

  • most childhood cancers do not recur  
  • the chance of relapse decreases the longer your child has been off treatment 
  • treatment may still be successful if the cancer returns 
Last updated Wednesday 26th June 2024