Breast cancer that has gone outside the breast to other regions of the body is referred to as metastatic breast cancer, also referred to as stage IV breast cancer. Breast cancer is in an advanced stage at this point, necessitating specialized care.
Metastatic breast cancer is breast cancer that has spread to the bones, liver, lungs, brain, or other bodily organs. This stage of breast cancer is the most advanced and might be difficult to cure. In the process of spreading to different organs or tissues through the bloodstream or lymphatic system, cancer cells that break off from the initial tumor can create secondary tumors.
Breast Cancer Stages
Based on the size of the tumor and whether it has migrated to neighboring lymph nodes or other regions of the body, breast cancer is divided into several stages. Breast cancer that is at stage IV has spread to other bodily areas. The phases are 0 through IV.
Cancer cells travel from the main tumor to different regions of the body through a process called metastasis. Breast cancer cells can spread through the lymphatic or blood systems. The capacity of cancer cells to spread signifies a more advanced stage of the condition and presents substantial therapy obstacles.
Symptoms of Metastatic Breast Cancer
Depending on the organs or tissues that have been impacted by the metastasis, the symptoms of metastatic breast cancer might change. However, there are some common symptoms to be aware of, including:
Persistent fatigue and weakness
Unexplained weight loss
Bone pain or fractures
Shortness of breath or chest pain
Headaches or seizures
Abdominal pain or swelling
Signs of Metastasis in Different Parts of the Body
Metastatic breast cancer can spread to various parts of the body, leading to specific signs and symptoms. Some examples include:
Bone metastasis: Bone pain, fractures, or hypercalcemia (high calcium levels)
Liver metastasis: Jaundice, abdominal pain, or swelling
Lung metastasis: Persistent cough, shortness of breath, or chest pain
Brain metastasis: Headaches, seizures, or changes in cognitive function
Diagnosing Metastatic Breast Cancer
Physical Examination and Medical History
The medical professional will look for any indications of cancer during a physical examination by checking the breast region, lymph nodes, and other areas of the body. Along with reviewing the patient’s medical background, they will inquire about any symptoms or risk factors.
Imaging tests play a crucial role in diagnosing metastatic breast cancer. These may include:
X-rays: To check for abnormalities in the lungs or bones
CT scan: Detailed cross-sectional images of the body to detect tumors
MRI: Detailed images of organs and tissues using magnetic fields and radio waves
PET scan: To identify areas of increased metabolic activity in the body
Biopsy and Molecular Testing
Doctors carry out a biopsy to confirm the existence of cancer cells and characterize them. In cases of metastatic breast cancer, a repeat biopsy of the main tumor or a biopsy of the afflicted location may be required. Molecular testing of the tumor can provide valuable information about specific genetic mutations or biomarkers, helping guide treatment decisions.
Treatment Options for Metastatic Breast Cancer
Systemic therapy aims to treat cancer cells throughout the body. It includes chemotherapy, which uses drugs to kill cancer cells, and hormone therapy, which targets hormone receptor-positive breast cancers. Systemic therapy may also involve targeted therapies that specifically target certain proteins or pathways involved in cancer growth.
Targeted therapies are designed to inhibit specific molecules or pathways involved in cancer development and progression. Examples include HER2-targeted therapies for HER2-positive breast cancers and CDK4/6 inhibitors for hormone receptor-positive breast cancers.
Breast cancers with hormone receptors are treated with hormone therapy. It works by blocking the effects of estrogen or lowering its levels in the body. Hormone therapy can help slow down the growth of cancer cells and manage the disease.
An revolutionary medical strategy known as immunotherapy uses the immune system’s capacity to combat cancer. While not widely used for metastatic breast cancer, ongoing research is exploring the potential of immunotherapy in improving treatment outcomes.
Surgery and Radiation
Radiation treatment and surgery may occasionally be used to treat metastatic breast cancer. Surgery can remove tumours that are creating difficulties or assist relieve symptoms. Targeting certain metastases, including those in the brain or the bones, is possible with radiation treatment.
Managing Metastatic Breast Cancer
The goal of palliative care is to enhance the quality of life for people with metastatic breast cancer. It involves managing symptoms, providing pain relief, and addressing emotional and psychological needs. Palliative care can be integrated alongside curative treatments or as the main approach for advanced-stage cancer.
Emotional and Psychological Support
Emotionally difficult situations might arise from having metastatic breast cancer. Therapy, support groups, or counselling may be helpful for patients and their families to deal with the psychological effects of the illness. In order to treat emotional needs, open communication with loved ones and healthcare professionals is essential.
Healthy lifestyle practices can treat metastatic breast cancer and enhance general wellbeing. This include following a balanced diet, exercising often (as directed by healthcare professionals), controlling stress, and obtaining enough relaxation and sleep.
Metastatic breast cancer is a challenging condition that requires comprehensive management. Early detection of symptoms, accurate diagnosis, and personalized treatment approaches are crucial for improving outcomes. Improvements in treatment choices and supportive care can considerably improve the quality of life for those with metastatic breast cancer, even though the illness may not be curable.