What Is Metastatic Breast Cancer?


Metastatic breast cancer, also known as Stage IV, is breast cancer that has traveled from the breast to distant organs. Most frequently, when breast cancer metastasizes it goes to the bones, brain, liver or lungs.

When I decided to review the statistics regarding the frequency of metastatic breast cancer (MBC), I was immediately cautioned at various sites to not seek out this information. It seems that most doctors will caution MBC patients that, because each person is an individual, this is a situation where statistics may not be relevant because of the spectrum that MBC covers.

Most people do not know what metastatic breast cancer is. We need more public awareness and education about what it means to have metastatic breast cancer. The most important fact about MBC is that there is no cure. MBC cancer cells often differ from the primary breast cancer from which they originated. They have often developed resistance to previous treatments.

Although MBC has spread to another part of the body, it is still considered to be and treated as breast cancer. For example, breast cancer that has spread to the lungs is still breast cancer. It is  treated with breast cancer drugs rather than as a cancer that began in the lungs.

Some women are diagnosed with MBC at the time of their first diagnosis. However this is not a common occurrence in the United States. Most often, if MBC does occur, it will be months or years after a woman has completed treatment for her original localized breast cancer.

The risk of the breast cancer returning and metastasizing depends greatly on the biology of the tumor itself, and the stage at the time of the original diagnosis.This is why statistics are not a good measurement in determining the individual outcome in treating MBC.

It is important to speak with  your oncologist about your treatment choices.

Discuss and ask questions about what he or she recommends, and why. Be sure you understand the side effects of each treatment. Treatments may include hormone therapy, chemotherapy, radiation and targeted therapy. Surgery is rarely used to treat MBC as metastatic cancer cells are no longer in one place making the cancer hard to remove surgically. However, surgery may be used to reduce the size of a tumor and ease symptoms.

Women in treatment need additional psychological, emotional, financial and treatment-related support. However, with the current lack of knowledge about metastatic breast cancer and the emphasis on early detection and intervention for breast cancer, little attention or funding for research and support services is being given to this advanced stage of breast cancer. Increased funding is needed to support research if we hope to improve the outcomes for the over 150,000 women and men living with metastatic breast cancer in this country.

We need to provide more help and assistance to those who are dealing with MBC.

They are fighting for their lives and trying to have a good quality of life while dealing with treatment that never ends.

If you or a loved one are living with metastatic breast cancer there are organizations you can join, if you are not already a member, where you will find support and resources. One such organization is The Metastatic Breast Cancer Network, a national, not-for-profit organization, http://www.mbcn.org It is lead by patient advocates, and offers information to those living with metastatic disease and their caregivers.

Edited by: Jean Campbell

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