Metastatic Breast Cancer

Metastatic Breast Cancer: What is It?

Stage 4, advanced breast cancer, or metastatic breast cancer, has spread beyond the breast tissue and nearby lymph nodes to other parts of the body like the lungs, brain, liver, and bones. It poses a unique challenge due to its systematic nature and requires aggressive treatment strategies from a breast cancer specialist.

How is it Different from Other Stages?

In the metastatic stage of cancer, the cancerous cells spread beyond the breast tissue and the surrounding lymph nodes to distant tissues or organs. The common sites include the liver, lungs, bones, and brain, which makes it different from other stages of breast cancer, primarily confined to the breast and surrounding areas.

During the earlier stages, the breast cancer specialist primarily focuses on treating the local tumour, thus preventing the spread of cancer cells. The treatment options and prognosis during these stages are more favourable since cancer at this stage is more responsive to treatments like radiation therapy, chemotherapy, and surgery. Though the metastatic stage is considered incurable, advancements in immunotherapies and targeted therapies have led to improved outcomes and extended survival for many patients.

Symptoms of Metastatic Breast Cancer

Talking about the symptoms of the metastatic stage of cancer, they can vary depending on the organ or tissues affected. While some patients experience few to no symptoms initially, other may have more pronounced symptoms, which include:

  • Bone Metastasis: Fractures, swelling, and pain in the bones are common indicators of bone metastasis, which can also lead to increased calcium levels in the blood, resulting in constipation, nausea, confusion, fatigue, and excessive thirst.
  • Liver metastasis: Symptoms like jaundice, loss of appetite, nausea, bloating, abdominal pain or discomfort, and unexplained weight loss appear when the cancer spreads to the liver.
  • Lung metastasis: This can cause shortness of breath, chest pain, persistent cough, or coughing up blood.
  • Lymph node involvement: These symptoms include swollen lymph nodes, especially in the neck, armpit, or chest area.
  • Brain metastasis: When the cancer spreads to the brain, it can cause seizures, headaches, dizziness, vision changes, speech difficulties, balance problems, or personality changes.
  • General Symptoms: The general symptoms of metastatic breast cancer include loss of appetite, fatigue, unexplained weight loss, and overall weakness.

If you notice any of these symptoms, it is extremely important that you consult a breast cancer surgeon for proper evaluation, but you also need to remember that these symptoms can also be caused by other medical conditions unrelated to cancer.

Is it Curable?

Metastatic breast cancer is not considered curable. When you go for a treatment, the primary goal will be to manage symptoms, control the growth and spread of cancer, and improve patients’ quality of life. However, advancements in treatment like immunotherapy, chemotherapy, hormone therapies, targeted therapies, and radiation therapy have led to longer survival rates for many patients.

The time for which a person can live with breast metastasis depends hugely on factors like the tumour’s biological characteristics, the extent of cancer spread, the patient’s overall health, and the effectiveness of treatments. However, some patients can live with metastatic breast cancer for many years by managing it as a chronic condition.
Summing Up

Dealing with metastatic breast cancer can be challenging. But with ongoing advancements in medical research and treatments, many patients are able to live longer and improve their quality of life.

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