Metastatic Breast Cancer Awareness Day
Today, October 13th, is national Metastatic Breast Cancer Awareness day. We'd like to use this day to help spread awareness about Metastatic Breast Cancer and help everyone to better understand what “metastatic” really means.
Metastatic breast cancer (also known as stage IV) is the spread of cancer to other parts of the body at a distance away from its primary origin. The bones, lungs, liver and brain are the most common places in which breast cancer cells can travel and develop.
But, how does cancer spread to different parts of the body?
- Local invasion - Cancer cells penetrate into the circulatory or lymph system.
- Migration through circulation – Lymph vessels and blood vessels circulate throughout our bodies through our circulatory system. When cancer cells break into those vessels they travel through most of our major organs.
- Arrest and extravasation - Cancer cells settle in small blood vessels called capillaries at a distant location. The cancerous cells will invade the healthy cell, divide, migrate and expand into surrounding tissue.
- Proliferation - The growth of new cancerous tumors. When a healthy cell is taken over by a cancerous cell it will multiply into more abnormal cells, which form small tumors at the new location. This is called micrometastasis.
The majority of patients with metastatic breast cancer are diagnosed after the cancer has been treated at an earlier stage. Fewer than 10% of women have stage IV metastatic breast cancer at the time of diagnosis.
Symptoms that your cancer has metastasized depends on the type of tissue that your cancer has seized and the part of the body your cancer has invaded. Below are some symptoms you may feel if your breast cancer has metastasized to the following areas...
If cancer has spread to the bone it may cause:
- Progressive bone ache and pain
- Easily fractured bones
If cancer has spread to the lungs it may cause:
- Chest pain
- Weight loss
- Abnormal chest pain
- Trouble taking deep full breaths
If cancer has spread to the liver it may cause:
- Itchy skin or rash
- Jaundice (the yellowing of skin your eyes)
- Abdominal pain
- Appetite loss
If cancer has spread to the brain it may cause:
- Behavioral changes or personality changes
- Persistent and progressive headache or a feeling of pressure in the head.
If you have been diagnosed with breast cancer in the past and you have a recurrence of these symptoms it is very important that you see your physician and oncologist to seek further tests and possible treatment.
Treatment options for metastatic breast cancer are different for everyone. It depends on where in the body the cancer has settled, how long it has been there and if your tumor responds to treatment. Metastatic tumors sometimes develop a resistance to drugs so it is not uncommon for your oncologist to change your treatment regime frequently.
Unlike breast cancer treatments, which remains within the breast, treatment for metastatic breast cancer is life-long and focuses on the control of the disease and quality of life. Metastatic cancers are treated with hopes that it will be contained.
As hard as it would be to hear, metastatic cancer is not a death sentence. Survival rates for people with metastatic cancer varies from person to person, but a large study found that 15 percent of women lived at least five years after being diagnosed. Some women may live 10 + years beyond their diagnosis and since these studies were conducted, newer metastatic breast cancer treatments have become available. This leads us to believe that the survival rate for a metastatic patient has improved since these studies last occurred.
According to the MBCN (Metastatic Breast Cancer Network) an estimated 155,000 Americans are currently living with metastatic breast cancer. Unfortunately, after diagnosed with any type of cancer you become prone to having your cancer metastasize. There is no way to prevent the spread from occurring and there is no cure.
So, be your own health advocate. Speak up if you have any abnormal pains or symptoms and visit your physician and oncologist annually. Early detection is key to survival.
To learn more, take a look at these 13 facts everyone should know about metastatic breast cancer shared from the metastatic breast cancer network.