What Does Cancer Remission, Recurrence & Cure Mean?


Surviving Cancer Isn’t the Same as a “Cure” for Cancer

As you move toward the end of cancer treatment, healthcare providers use certain descriptions for the disease. It’s helpful to understand the medical definitions MSK uses. Some of these medical terms will come up often as you transition to cancer survivorship. There are terms for how well a treatment has worked, its long-term side effects, and future signs of the disease. You may not hear “cure” because it’s not a medical term.

Cancer Remission, Complete Remission (CR), and No Evidence of Disease (NED)

These are terms that indicate that the signs and symptoms of cancer are no longer present. However, it is possible that cancer cells may continue to exist in the body at a level at which current testing methods cannot detect. These terms mean the same thing.

Long-Term and Late Treatment Effects

These are terms that refer to persistent post-treatment side effects, or new side effects that develop months or even years after completing treatment. Careful monitoring for long-term and late effects based on the types of treatment used is an important part of follow-up for Survivorship care. Examples of long-term or late effects include fatigue, lymphedema, insomnia, and changes in memory or concentration.

Cancer Recurrence or Relapse

These terms indicate detection of disease after completing treatment. This may be evaluated by radiologic imaging, lab testing, or biopsy. Careful monitoring for signs and symptoms of recurrent disease is an important part of follow-up care.