What is Metastatic Breast Cancer?

Metastatic breast cancer, the incorrigible form of the disease, takes a back seat at pink ribbon raises where the importance is on the cure. But the metastatic disease does not take a back seat in research, where a greater understanding of biology is giving rise to new therapies that extend survival. Metastatic breast cancer is a disease of early breast cancer that usually occurs several years after the early breast cancer.

Metastatic breast cancer is also classified as stage four of breast cancer. Cancer has spread to other parts of the body. This usually includes the lungs, liver, bones or brain. To understand the prognosis for stage 4 breast cancer, it helps to know something about the process of metastasis. When cancer “metastasizes,” it has blown out elsewhere the part of the body where it initiated. In the case of breast cancer, receiving a stage 4 diagnosis may mean cancer has reached your bones, lungs, liver, or even your brain.

Treatment of early-stage disease focuses on curing the breast cancer and therefore tends to be immediate and aggressive. In contrast, because there is no cure for metastatic breast cancer at this time, treatment focuses on controlling the disease and permits a more measured, long-term approach to therapy. This allows for more conservative treatment that reduces the incidence of adverse side effects.

A diagnosis of metastatic breast cancer can be frightening and overwhelming. It is understandable to experience a range of emotions when you are first diagnosed. But here is some good news – answers to some frequently asked questions. Today, more and more women and men with metastatic breast cancer are living longer, meaningful and productive lives. While the search for a cure still continues, rest assured that metastatic breast cancer can, at times, be effectively controlled for extended periods of time, with ongoing treatment.

Metastatic cancer does not always cause symptoms. When symptoms do occur, their nature and frequency will depend on the size and location of the metastatic tumors. Some common signs of metastatic cancer include pain and fractures, when cancer has spread to the bone; a headache, seizures, or dizziness, when cancer has spread to the brain; shortness of breath, when cancer has spread to the lung; jaundice or swelling in the belly, when cancer has spread to the liver

The treatment that you may have depends on your type of primary cancer, where it has spread, treatments you’ve had in the past, and your general health.  Once cancer spreads, it can be hard to control. Although some types of metastatic cancer can be cured with current treatments, most cannot. Even so, there are treatments for all patients with metastatic cancer. The goal of these treatments is to stop or slow the growth of cancer or to relieve symptoms caused by it. In some cases, treatments for metastatic cancer may help prolong life.

Each woman’s familiarity with metastatic is sole and substantial and many women living with metastatic live rich and meaningful lives post-metastatic diagnoses. The past few years has also seen an uptick in programs augmenting excellence of life.

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