It’s fairly common knowledge that metastatic breast cancer is serious and means that the cancer has spread, but what are the implications for treatment and prognosis? Get the facts about metastatic breast cancer, its treatment and living with this condition.
Metastatic breast cancer, also known as stage 4 breast cancer, means that the cancer cells have invaded tissue beyond the breast. Breast cancer most commonly spreads, or metastasizes, to the brain, lungs, bones and liver. Once the cancer has metastasized, medical experts consider it incurable.
However, this does not mean that there’s no hope. Women with metastatic breast cancer sometimes live for more than 10 years after this diagnosis. Fortunately, as many as 95 percent of breast cancer diagnoses occur before the cancer has metastasized. Breast cancer is never fatal during its first three stages; death from breast cancer always occurs as result of metastasis.
In addition to surgery, chemotherapy and radiation, treatment of metastatic breast cancer may also include hormone therapy. The specific type of treatment always continues to target breast cancer, even if the cancer is in a distant location such as the brain or liver. If the cancer is receptive to hormone therapy, this treatment can slow the progress of the cancer for a significant amount of time. Hormone therapy reaches the entire body, enabling it to treat cancer in locations far from the original cancer site.
The diagnosis of metastatic breast cancer often follows treatment of cancer at an earlier stage and signals the end of a remission. It’s always difficult and often frightening, making it essential to find ways to cope and hold onto hope as you manage the disease. Learning as much as you can about the specifics of your disease and its treatment options helps you maximize your control over the disease.
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As you explore these options, prioritize your treatment objectives. You might decide to treat your cancer as aggressively as possible or to treat it in a way that minimizes side effects. Although there is great temptation to study statistics, individual cancers can vary so widely that it’s impossible to know how these apply to any particular person.
Perhaps most importantly, connect to support systems that can help you endure the difficult emotions that come with a cancer diagnosis. Support systems can include online or in-person support groups, individual counselors and self-care, such as continuing to engage as much as you can in activities that you love. Although there have been many recent advances in breast cancer treatment, there’s still a long road ahead to find a cure for metastatic cancer.