Prostate cancer recurrence

Recurrent prostate cancer is cancer that has “come back” after a man has had treatment that aimed to cure it. In reality, it hasn’t come back, but never went away in the first place. That might be because the cancer had already escaped the prostate before treatment, but was undetectable on scans, or because some particularly resilient cancer cells survived a first treatment.

Importantly, recurrence can represent a major worry for many men following prostate cancer treatment. Every follow up PSA test can cause significant stress and anxiety, and if their cancer does return, men may face more difficult treatment decisions. You can read the personal experiences of both of these scenarios, from David and Martin below.

Prostate Cancer UK is dedicated to improving the lives of men, and that means stopping recurrent prostate cancer in its tracks. On this page you can find out what research we’re funding, that will one day help us stop cancer from coming back for good.  

If you have any concerns about prostate cancer recurrence, or have been diagnosed with the disease, our Specialist Nurses are here to support you. You can call the nurses on 0800 074 8383, contact them by email, or chat online


Recurrence health information

Read our information on when prostate cancer comes back

If your prostate cancer comes back

Martin's story

When Martin was first treated for his localised prostate cancer, he felt like something wasn’t right. Years later, he got the news that his cancer had come back.

Martins story

David's story

When David Frederick was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2016, he was surprisingly calm. Years on, he’s still not out of the woods.

David's story

Our research: how we're stopping recurrent prostate cancer in its tracks

Prostate Cancer UK are dedicated to stopping resistance in its tracks. And that means funding research to tackle these three areas:

  • Which men are at high risk of their prostate cancer recurring?
  • And for how many of these men will it lead to a diagnosis of advanced disease?
  • What treatment, combination of treatments or sequence of treatments will destroy even the most resilient of cancer cells, first time around?
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Dr Ananya Choudhury: dual funding to target recurrent prostate cancer

We're funding Dr Choudhury and her team to carry out two projects that aims to find a way to identify and treat those men whose cancer is likely to come back after radiotherapy, before they start treatment.  The first is using huge quantities of data and complex machine learning to work out which patients may have prostate cancer that lies just outside the prostate, and who may benefit from additional radiotherapy to these areas to stop cancer recurring. In the second project, the team are building on work that suggests cancer may be more likely to return if it is low in oxygen. They'll find a way to identify these men, and will test giving them oxygen-boosting drugs to resensitise them to treatment. 

Dr Richard Clarkson: blasting the resilient cells responsible for recurrence

Dr Clarkson’s research also aims to find a treatment to prevent recurrence from the outset. He’s found a type of very resilient cancer stem cells in some men’s tumours that are resistant to, or somehow evade, normal treatment. Dr Clarkson thinks that these are the cells responsible for the spread of prostate cancer around the body even after surgery or radiotherapy in high-risk men.

Their team has developed a novel anti-cancer drug that specifically targets these cancer stem cells, and believes that giving this drug to men at high-risk of their cancer spreading outside the prostate could prevent this recurrence from happening.

Dr Susan Heavey: a belt and braces approach to stopping recurrence

Dr Heavey’s project, supported by the Movember foundation is testing new drugs that target the action of a gene called PIM, which is involved in prostate cancer development and progression. If her results prove positive, Dr Heavey thinks that these drugs could be used to treat men diagnosed with prostate cancer who have chosen to be treated with surgery.

She hopes that giving these drugs immediately before and after surgery could reduce the risk of the cancer coming back, because it would act as a ‘belt and braces’ approach to making sure that all cancer cells were either removed by the surgery or killed by the drug.

Professor Claire Lewis and Dr Janet Brown: re-programming gone-bad immune cells that help cancer return

Professor Lewis and Dr Brown think that the same immune response that helps wounds to heal may also be helping the cancer to come back after from radiation. They’ve identified that a specific type of immune cell, called a macrophage, which stimulates blood vessel growth in tumours and can promote relapse after treatment. They aim to reprogramme these macrophages to fight cancer instead by injecting tiny packages of proteins that turn them into cancer-killers.