This article is about metastatic breast cancer. Explore the basic information about this serious disease.
What is Metastatic Breast Cancer?
If you are diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer, i.e. the cancer has developed into what’s known as “stage 4.”
Stage 4 breast cancer is described as having spread beyond the breast tissue into other parts of the body.
What is Metastasis?
In order to understand metastatic breast cancer prognosis, it helps to know something about the process of metastasis. First of all, let’s define “metastasis”. Metastasis is a complex process that involves the spread of a tumor or cancer to distant parts of the body from its original site, in this case, from the breast tissue to bones, lungs, liver, brain.
What are the Symptoms of Metastatic Breast Cancer?
The symptoms may be different, depending on how far cancer cells have spread and what type of tissue the new cancer growth has affected.
Here are some symptoms that vary by locations commonly associated with breast cancer metastasis.
Metastasis in the bone may cause:
- Severe, progressive pain
- Bones that are more easily fractured or broken
Metastasis to the brain may cause:
- Persistent, progressively worsening headache or pressure to the head
- Vision disturbances
- Vomiting or nausea
- Behavioral changes or personality changes
Metastasis to the liver may cause:
- Itchy skin or rash
- Abnormally high enzymes in the liver
- Abdominal pain, appetite loss, nausea, and vomiting
Metastasis to the lungs may cause:
- Chronic cough or inability to get a full breath
- Abnormal chest X-ray
- Chest pain
- Other nonspecific systemic symptoms of metastatic breast cancer can include fatigue, weight loss, and poor appetite, but it’s important to remember these can also be caused by medication or depression.
If you experience some of these symptoms, you should inform your doctor. It is extremely important in order to find the appropriate treatment option.
Metastatic Breast Cancer Survival Rates
The American Cancer Society (ACS) highlights that the five-year survival rate after diagnosis for stage 4 breast cancer patients is 22 percent.
This percentage is considerably lower than at earlier stages. Compare: at stage 3, the five-year relative survival rate is 72 percent, and at stage 2, it’s over 90 percent.
As you see, survival rates are higher in the early stages of breast cancer, early diagnosis and treatment is extremely important.
Survival rates for breast cancer are based on studies of many patients with this disease. These statistics can’t predict your own future health and longevity, however. Each person’s prognosis is different.
Your life expectancy with metastatic breast cancer depends on such factors:
- your age
- your general health
- hormone receptors on cells with cancer
- the types of tissue that the cancer has affected
- your attitude and outlook
There are several general facts that are helpful to know about breast cancer prognosis. According to the University of Maryland Medical Center (UMMC):
- After lung cancer, breast cancer causes more deaths in women than any other type of cancer.
- Women in higher economic groups have higher survival rates than women in lower groups.
- Many women with breast cancer now live longer than they used to. Over the last 10 years, the number of deaths from breast cancer has dropped substantially.
What about Recurrence?
Recently, women under the age of 50 have seen a significant decrease in death rates due to breast cancer. This fact is due in part to advanced screening and treatment for the disease.
Despite these achievements, breast cancer survivors should always remember that their cancer is likely to return. According to the UMMC, if your breast cancer is going to recur, it’s most likely to do so within five years of having received treatment for the condition.
Diagnosis – The Earlier, The Better
The stage of your breast cancer when you’re diagnosed plays a crucial role in your prognosis. According to the National Cancer Institute (NCI), you have the best chance of survival in the five years post-diagnosis when breast cancer is diagnosed and treated at an earlier stage.
It is important to remember that each person is different, and your response to treatment may not match someone else’s — even at stage 4. Consult your doctor to learn more about the individual factors that may influence on your prognosis.
Treatment of Metastatic Breast Cancer
A complex drug therapy in combination with chemotherapy and a hormone therapy is leading treatment for metastatic breast cancer. In addition, it is recommended to use targeted therapy.
In most cases, patients with metastatic breast cancer prefer the least toxic type of treatment. This is hormonal therapy. However, a hormone therapy can’t be used in all cases. When negative estrogen receptor (ER-) and progesterone receptor (PR-) take place, the improvement of the condition is at least 10 percent.
Radiation therapy is used to relieve the pain caused by metastatic bone cancer.
Always keep in mind that enormous treatment improvements do mean that thousands of women are living longer and better lives even though they suffer from metastatic breast cancer.