Metastatic Breast Cancer?
It has been a while since I have written about metastatic cancer, but after having met so many (amazing & inspiring!) people on the book tour with metastatic cancer, I have decided to write more about it, to share information and, most of all, hope for those living with it.
Let’s start with the basics: WHAT? HOW? WHERE? WHY? WHAT TO DO?
Described simply, metastatic cancer is cancer that spreads from the place where it first started to another place in the body. The spread of cancer to a new part of the body is called metastasis. It is also called stage IV or advanced breast cancer.
So how the f-bomb does cancer spread, you wonder? Quite easily, I’m afraid. Here’s how it works: cancer cells break away from the primary tumor and travel to other parts of the body through the bloodstream or the lymph system. Many of the cancer cells die during transportation, but some attach themselves to the wall of a blood or lymph vessel and move into a new organ where they settle and begin growing into new tumors. The cancer cells find a location in the body where they can grow, thrive, and avoid attacks from the body’s immune system. The ability of cancer cells to successfully metastasize depends on its individual properties. In other words, just because cancer cells reach a new location does not mean they will begin to grow into tumors. In some cases, the cancer cells lie dormant for many years in the new location before they grow, if at all. Interesting, right?
The spread of cancer is not a haphazard process. The most common sites for metastatic breast cancer are the bones, lungs, liver, or brain. Metastatic breast cancer usually occurs months or years after a person has completed treatment for stage I, II, or III breast cancer. The risk of breast cancer reoccurring varies from person to person and generally depends on the biology of the tumor and the stage of the breast cancer at the time of the original diagnosis.
Unfortunately, there isn’t always an answer. The risk of breast cancer spreading to other parts of the body varies from person to person. It generally depends on the biology of the tumor and the stage of the breast cancer at the time of the original diagnosis. There are clinical and lifestyle things that can be done to reduce the risk of this happening, e.g., healthy eating, maintaining a healthy weight, aromatase inhibiting medication, oophorectomy (the surgical removal of ovaries).
WHAT TO DO?
The Silver Lining here is that even though the cancer is incurable, it is treatable. People live long and full lives with metastatic cancer. Treatment for metastatic breast cancer generally depends on the size and location of the metastases, certain features of the tumor cells, your age and general health, the types of treatment you may have had in the past, and your current symptoms. Common treatments include chemotherapy, biological therapy, targeted therapy, hormonal therapy, surgery, and radiation.Patients may also want to consider participating in a clinical trail in order to help researcher’s learn more about metastatic breast cancer and how to treat it. Some new treatments are only available through a clinical trial. I highly suggest asking your doctors to help you weigh the pros and cons of participation.
If you have metastatic cancer, I would love to hear your story and to learn what helps you and what doesn’t.