Today is October 13th, also known as metastatic breast cancer awareness day.
About Metastatic Breast Cancer
Breast cancer stages range from 0-4, with stages 3 and 4 being considered advanced breast cancer. In stage 3, the breast cancer has not metastasized, or spread to another part of the body. However, at stage 3, the breast cancer has traveled into the nearby lymph nodes and the muscles.
Stage 4 breast cancer is referred to as advanced breast cancer, or metastatic breast cancer. This is when breast cancer has in fact spread to other parts of the body, regardless of where it is. To clarify, even if the cancer has spread, it will still be called breast cancer and not cancer of that portion. Breast cancer can metastasize in any part of the body, but it most commonly spreads to the bones, lungs, liver, or the brain.
Unfortunately, there is no cure at this time for metastatic breast cancer, however, there are medicines and treatments available that will slow down the growth and spread of the breast cancer in patients young and old alike. Although a metastatic breast cancer diagnosis means that treatment will now be a part of your daily life, you do have options when it comes to managing your condition.
- 20-30 percent of patients diagnosed with early-stage breast cancer will develop metastatic breast cancer
- Metastatic breast cancer can occur any number of years after the initial diagnosis, even following treatment
- It is estimated that 155,000 Americans are currently living with metastatic breast cancer
- People of all ages and any gender can be diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer
- 6% to 10% of metastatic breast cancer patients are diagnosed with it as their first diagnosis, termed “de novo metastatic breast cancer”
- There is more than one type of metastatic breast cancer. HR+ and HER2- are the most common subtypes, composing 60% of all cases
If you suddenly notice any of the breast cancer symptoms below and they remain after a month, alert your physician so they can examine your breasts and prescribe imaging if necessary.
- Thickening or dimpling of skin on the breast
- Areas of redness or swelling on the breast
- Flaky skin on the breast
- An itchy, painful or tender breast
- Nipple discharge that is not breast milk, including blood
- A nipple that is flat, blistering, scaling, inverted or unusually red
- A change in the size or shape of the breast
- A lump in the breast or underarm, especially one that’s hard and immovable
- Swollen lymph node near the armpit
With metastatic breast cancer, the symptoms will be variable depending on where in the body it has spread to.
Common areas where breast cancer spreads:
- Severe pain that gets worse
- Bones that easily break
- Yellow of the skin or eyes (jaundice)
- Itchy skin or rash
- Abnormally high liver enzyme levels
- Stomach pain, loss of appetite, nausea
- Chronic cough
- Shortness of breath
- Chest pain
- Abnormal chest x-ray
Treatment of HR+ and HER- Metastatic Breast Cancer
When you’re discussing a treatment option for metastatic breast cancer with your doctor, it’s important to know that you have various options, but the decision will depend on several patient and tumor factors, such as HR or HER2 status.
Systemic treatment options
Most metastatic breast cancer is treated with systemic therapy. Systemic therapy travels throughout the bloodstream, reaching cancerous cells throughout the body. These treatments affect both cancerous and normal cells. Sometimes different systemic treatments are combined with each other.
Systemic treatments include the following:
- Hormone treatments
- Targeted treatments
Local treatment options
Local treatments such as surgery or radiation may be used to help prevent or treat symptoms of metastatic breast cancer.
Questions for Your Doctor
- Can you recommend additional resources that would help educate me about my disease and treatment?
- What are my options for treating my HR+, HER2– metastatic breast cancer?
- How will treatment affect my personal life?
- How long is my anticipated treatment?
- What does my treatment plan look like? How does this compare to other treatments?
- Are there any clinical trials I can participate in?
- What are the symptoms of the treatment you are proposing for me?
- How will treatment affect my professional life? Can I work while completing these treatments?