Breast Cancer and Metastasis in the Lung

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Cancer that originates in the breast tissue and is contained to the breasts is incapable of being deadly. However, when the cancer spreads to the lymph nodes and makes its way through the bloodstream to more vital organs, such as the liver, bones, brain, or lungs, it’s a much more dangerous adversary.

When cancer spreads to an organ where it didn’t originate, it’s referred to as metastasis, which is the fourth stage of cancer. The four organs mentioned above are some of the most common places for breast cancer to spread or metastasize. Today we’ll take an in-depth look at what happens when cancer metastasizes to the lungs, talk about what to look for, and discuss the prognosis and treatment options.

Here are some basic things to know about metastatic breast cancer in the lungs:

What causes metastasis to the lungs?

Metastasis to the lung, also known as secondary breast cancer in the lung, is caused in the same manner as other metastases. Tumor cells grow and divide at a rapid rate, and some of those cells break off from the primary tumor and enter the bloodstream. From there, they can travel to other areas of the body, including the lungs.

During this time, the rogue cells will undergo a variety of changes to make them more resistant to the immune system and allow them to survive in the lungs. They may even lie dormant during treatment, not growing but also not dying, until they have the right environment to begin multiplying again.

How is metastasis in the lungs diagnosed?

If you have symptoms or are at high risk for lung metastasis, your doctor might start with a physical examination and blood tests and decide on the next step from there. Common tests to diagnose metastasis in the lungs include a chest X-ray, a CT scan, or a PET scan. Your doctor might also choose to test a mucus sample or perform a bronchoscopy or needle biopsy of the lung.

What are the symptoms of metastatic breast cancer in the lungs?

If your breast cancer has metastasized to your lungs, you may not notice any symptoms right away. Your first symptoms are likely to feel a little like cold or flu symptoms. They might include persistent cough, shortness of breath, difficulty breathing, wheezing, or fatigue. You could also experience pain in your lungs, coughing up blood, loss of appetite, weight loss, or recurrent chest infections.

What treatments are available for metastatic breast cancer in the lungs?

Metastatic breast cancer that has migrated to the lungs is stage IV cancer and is considered incurable. However, many patients can still have several years of high-quality life with proper treatment to slow the growth and spread of cancer cells. Some options include chemotherapy, hormonal therapy, targeted therapy, and radiation. Your doctor may suggest one of these treatments or a combination.

Your treatment plan will likely depend on several factors, such as how extensive the cancer is within the lung, whether the cancer has spread to other organs, what symptoms you have, what treatments you’ve already had, whether you’ve been through menopause, and your general health. You can help yourself stay healthy for cancer treatment by eating well, getting enough sleep, and exercising as much as possible.

Elizabeth Nelson is a wordsmith, an alumna of Aquinas College in Grand Rapids, a four-leaf-clover finder, and a grammar connoisseur. She has lived in west Michigan since age four but loves to travel to new (and old) places. In her free time, she. . . wait, what’s free time?
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