Metastatic Breast Cancer Symptoms
Metastatic breast cancer symptoms depend on the part of the body to which the cancer has spread and its stage. Sometimes, metastatic disease may not cause any symptoms.
- If the breast or chest wall is affected, symptoms may include pain, nipple discharge, or a lump or thickening in the breast or underarm.
- If the bones are affected, symptoms may include pain, fractures, constipation or decreased alertness due to high calcium levels.
- If tumors form in the lungs, symptoms may include shortness of breath or difficulty breathing, coughing, chest wall pain or extreme fatigue.
- If the liver is affected, symptoms may include nausea, extreme fatigue, increased abdominal girth, swelling of the feet and hands due to fluid collection and yellowing or itchy skin.
- If breast cancer spreads to the brain or spinal cord and forms tumors, symptoms may include pain, confusion, memory loss, headache, blurred or double vision, difficulty with speech, difficulty with movement or seizures.
Symptoms If Cancer Has Spread To The Lymph Nodes
Lymph nodes are part of a system of tubes and glands in the body that filters body fluids and fights infection.
The most common symptom if cancer has spread to the lymph nodes is that they feel hard or swollen. You might have any of the following symptoms if your cancer has spread to the lymph nodes:
- a lump or swelling under your armpit
- swelling in your arm or hand
- a lump or swelling in your breast bone or collar bone area
One of the first places breast cancer can spread to is the lymph nodes under the arm on the same side as the breast cancer. This is not a secondary cancer.
Lobular Carcinoma In Situ Symptoms
Lobular carcinoma in situ does not cause symptoms and cannot be seen with a mammogram. This condition is usually found when a doctor is doing a breast biopsy for another reason, such as to investigate an unrelated breast lump. If a person has LCIS, the breast cells will appear abnormal under a microscope.
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Swelling In Or Around Your Breast Collarbone Or Armpit
Swelling in these areas can occur for many reasons but may indicate cancer. Breast swelling can be caused by certain types of breast cancer. Swelling or lumps around your collarbone or armpits can be caused by breast cancer that has spread to lymph nodes in those areas. The swelling can occur even before you can feel a lump in your breast. If you have swelling, be sure to let your health care team know as soon as possible.
Changes In Breast Shape Size Or Appearance
Remember that not all the breast tumors cause a hard lump close enough to the surface to be noticeable. Instead, in some women, the shape and appearance of the breasts may change. Unexplained swelling or shrinkage of the breast only on one side, asymmetry of the breast, a sudden change in shape of the breast are some of the symptoms you should not ignore. They are the possible signs of breast cancer.
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How Breast Cancer Pain May Feel
While many types of breast pain are not cancerous, pain in only one breast may be cause for calling your doctor. Benign breast pain is often on both sides.
Breast cancer pain can be persistent and very specific, usually hurting in just one spot. It is important to remember that breast cancer can be present in your breast before it causes pain. If you have other symptoms of breast cancer, such as nipple retraction , sudden swelling of your breast, or sudden skin changes, consult your healthcare provider for a clinical breast exam.
What Are The Chances Of Breast Cancer Returning
Each persons risk of breast cancer recurrence is different and depends on many factors, such as the size, type, grade and features of the cancer and whether the lymph nodes were affected.
Your treatment team can tell you more about your individual risk of recurrence if you want to know this.
The risk of breast cancer recurring is higher in the first few years and reduces as time goes on.
However, recurrence can happen even many years after treatment, which is why its important to be breast and body aware, and report any changes to your treatment team or GP.
In the UK, the number of people surviving breast cancer has risen greatly over the past decade and most people diagnosed with primary breast cancer will not have a recurrence.
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Talking To Your Doctor About Pain
Its very important to tell your doctor about any kind of pain youre having so your medical team can develop a plan to treat it.
Telling your doctor about your pain doesnt mean youre complaining or that youre a bad patient. Pain is no different from any other symptom or side effect of either the breast cancer or the breast cancer treatment.
Keeping a pain diary can help you give your medical team detailed information about the pain youre feeling. Its a good idea to keep the diary on your phone or in a small notebook.
Start by listing any breast cancer treatments youre receiving. Then list any pain medicines, including the dose and how often you take them, and any other techniques you may be using to control pain.
Each time you feel pain, write down:
anything else about the pain you think is important
Take the pain diary to your doctors appointments so you remember to keep your medical team updated.
Its important to speak up if your pain management plan isnt working. Tell your doctor if the pain isnt getting better or if the medicines or other techniques dont work as quickly or for as long as your doctor said they would.
Back Pain And Cancer Statistics
Most back pain is not caused by cancer. While it is important to see a doctor any time you have pain that doesn’t go away, back pain is much more likely to be caused by something like a back injury or arthritis.
- About 90% of back pain is caused by something mechanical, like an injury.
- The lifetime chance of developing a spinal cord or brain tumor is less than 1%.
- The biggest predictor of spinal cancer is a history of cancer.
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The Breast Cancer Centers At Ctca
At the Breast Cancer Centers at each of our CTCA® hospitals, located across the nation, our cancer experts are devoted to a single missiontreating breast cancer patients with compassion and precision. Each patients care team is led by a medical oncologist and coordinated by a registered oncology nurse, who helps track the various appointments, follow up on tests and answer questions that come up along the way. Your care team also may include a breast surgeon, radiation oncologist, radiologist, pathologist and a plastic/reconstructive surgeon with advanced training in helping patients restore function and appearance. Fertility preservation and genetic testing are also available for qualifying patients who need them.
Our pathologists and oncologists are experienced and trained in tools designed to diagnose, stage and treat different types of breast cancer, from early-stage ductal carcinoma in situ to complex diseases such as triple-negative and inflammatory breast cancer. As part of our patient-centered care model, which is designed to help you keep strong during treatment, your multidisciplinary care team may recommend various evidence-informed supportive therapies, such as naturopathic support, psychosocial support, nutritional support, physical and occupational therapy and pain management. The entire team works together with a whole-person focus, which is at the heart of our centers dedication to personalized and comprehensive care.
Know The Breast Cancer Signs
Every womans body has a unique ebb and flow, and getting in tune with your own personal rhythm is invaluable for becoming aware of signs you have cancer. Paying close attention to any unusual changes that might be occurring, especially within breast tissue, is critical to avoiding breast cancer.
If you feel any unusual aches or pains in your breast, including occasional throbbing, pain, or even fluctuating discomfort, talk to your healthcare provider. Many women assume that only an isolated lump with localized pain suggests the presence of breast cancer. The truth is that breast cancer can manifest as scattered, seed-like tumors that, in some cases, spread like small tentacles throughout breast tissue.
Experts from MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston warn that breast cancer often shows up without the classic breast cancer warning signs of lumps or redness. As mentioned above, other breast cancer symptoms in females can include swelling and irritation, dimpling, nipple discharge beyond normal lactation, nipple inversion, and/or a thickening and reddening of skin around the nipple. These are all potential early breast cancer signs you need to pay attention to in your body.
There are breast cancers that present as half a lump or there may be no lump at all, says Dr. Naoto Ueno, chief of Translational Breast Cancer Research at the Center, as quoted by CBS News. It could just be a strange-looking skin appearance or skin being red or dimpled.
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The Sacrum Bone And Breast Cancer
Late last week it was announced that Olivia Newton-Johns breast cancer has returned and spread to her back. Newton-John was originally treated for breast cancer back in 1992, and the cancer was successfully treated and she continued to perform for more than two decades. However, Newton-John was recently plagued by back pain that she thought was due to sciatica, but it turns out her breast cancer had returned and metastasized in her sacrum.
Your sacrum bone is that large wedge-shaped bone that sits at the bottom of your back. It forms the base of the spinal column and it connects with the hip bones to form your pelvis. It is integral to the integrity of your back, because it is one of the strongest bones in your body as it helps support the weight of your torso.
Although cancer that is contained to the breast region will not typically result in back pain, one of the more common places for breast cancer to metastasize is in your spinal column. So if you are at risk for breast cancer or you are in remission, and you are dealing with an onset of back pain, head into a doctors office for a check up. Spinal tumors are one condition that can be treated with spinal surgery in order to preserve the integrity of your spinal canal.
Symptoms Elsewhere In The Body
Sometimes breast cancer cells can spread from the breast to other parts of the body. This is known as secondary breast cancer.
Some symptoms to be aware of include:
- unexpected weight loss and a loss of appetite
- severe or ongoing headaches
Find out more about the symptoms of secondary breast cancer.
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What Should You Know About Pain Management For Breast Cancer
It is important that you always tell your doctor or other healthcare provider if you are having pain. Do not wait for them to ask you about pain.
Managing pain from breast cancer surgery
Breast cancer treatment often includes surgical procedures such as lumpectomy, breast removal, or breast reconstruction. Your doctor may remove one or more lymph nodes from your axillary area, which tends to be painful. The cuts from surgery may cause pain in the skin, breast nerves, or muscle. Degrees of pain or discomfort after surgery is to be expected. During surgery, the surgeon may inject a pain medicine into your surgical area to help decrease the amount of post-operative pain you experience.
Your doctor may also give you a prescription for opioid pain relievers to take for severe pain. He or she will suggest over-the-counter pain medicines such as ibuprofen, acetaminophen, or naproxen to take as a first measure. They will also discuss applying ice to the surgical area for comfort. Make sure that you check with your healthcare provider before taking any kind of medicine, even non-prescription items.
Post-operatively, wearing a soft bra that fastens in the front is comforting. After lymph node surgery, keeping the arm elevated on a pillow when sitting and placing a small lap pillow between your upper arm and lateral chest wall will help with arm pain and healing.
Managing pain from radiation therapy for breast cancer
Managing pain from chemotherapy for breast cancer
Getting Treatment For Terminal Cancer
My cancer was estrogen-receptor positive, so I initially went on tamoxifen, a type of hormone therapy that can slow tumor growth in some breast cancers. Meanwhile, my body was put into medication-induced menopause to make me a candidate for future hormone therapy and chemotherapy treatments. I was on many different medications to stop my cancer from progressing, and for about two years it worked. Then it progressed.
To try to get it under control, I endured different palliative surgeries and radiation, but these left me with more side effects. The tissue around my left breast where my tumor is became rock-hard and very painful. Radiation burns in my stomach prevent me from tolerating much fiber.
I’ve also experienced severe pain, as the cancer has since spread to my bones. At first, I would transition back and forth between a wheelchair, a walker, and on one occasion, a cane. Currently, with the correct pain medications, I rarely have to use a cane or chair, and I even walked 22 miles around Disney World last Februarysomething I would have said was impossible a year prior.
Now, I have scans every three months to check for progressions, and I go to my oncologist every month to do blood work. If I ever have any extra pain or other symptoms, sometimes my scans are moved up to double-check everything. I try to resist living in three-month increments I’ve actually planned a trip to Europe soon.
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What If Doctors Had Diagnosed Me Earlier
Maintaining my quality of life is the biggest thing for me now. If I know quantity is going to be short, then the time I’m going to have is going to be good time. I’m always going to have a little bit of pain, but it’s about what I can tolerate, and I have a conversation going with my palliative care team, who is fantastic.
I moved home after I was diagnosed, thinking I’d be home for a year for treatment. Then I found out I’d be in treatment for the rest of my life. I had to quit my job and go on disability because of my bone metastases. My treatment schedule is pretty rigorous. I sometimes have three or four appointments in a day. But staying alive is my full-time job now.
I do see friends often, and have joined some online support groups for women with metastatic breast cancer too. It’s a whole community where I’ve built some strong bonds and relationships with people who really understand what I’m going through. And I work with some advocacy groups like the Hear My Voice program from Living Beyond Breast Cancer to help raise awareness of metastatic breast cancer.
I wonder constantly about the what-ifs, but I realized I had to keep moving forward. Ruminating on what could have been doesn’t change my outcome.
This article is part of Health’s new series, Misdiagnosed, featuring stories from real women who have had their medical symptoms dismissed or wrongly diagnosed.
Bone Weakening And Fracture
Secondary breast cancer in the bone may mean the affected bones are weakened, which can increase the risk of a fracture.
If a bone has fractured you may need surgery to try to repair the fracture. You may also be given drug treatment to stop this happening in the future. You may have radiotherapy after the surgery.
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Early Warning Signs Of Breast Cancer
Common symptoms of breast cancer include:
- A lump in your breast or underarm that doesnât go away. This is often the first symptom of breast cancer. Your doctor can usually see a lump on a mammogram long before you can see or feel it.
- Swelling in your armpit or near your collarbone. This could mean breast cancer has spread to lymph nodes in that area. Swelling may start before you feel a lump, so let your doctor know if you notice it.
- Pain and tenderness, although lumps donât usually hurt. Some may cause a prickly feeling.
- A flat or indented area on your breast. This could happen because of a tumor that you canât see or feel.
- Breast changes such as a difference in the size, contour, texture, or temperature of your breast.
- Changes in your nipple, like one that:
General Health And Wellness
Breast cancer is the most common cancer among women in the United States effecting one in eight women. Millions of women are surviving the disease thanks in part to early detection and improvements in treatment. Here are 14 Early Warning Cancer Symptoms That Often Get Ignored.
Sudden Changes In Skin
If you have a mole that is rapidly changing shape, color or size, call a dermatologist immediately.
Frequent Infections And Lengthy Fevers
If you have a fever that just wont go away, and theres no other justifiable cause, it may mean youre suffering from a blood-related cancer like leukemia.
Lumps Under Your Arms, On Your Neck Or Groin & Swollen Lymph Nodes
Sudden, drastic changes in your lymphatic system can definitely be a sign of lymphoma and other cancers.
Stubborn Back Pain
Long-lasting backaches are a clear sign of bone, liver breast and a variety of other dangerous cancers. If you have any pain thats lasted over a month, reach out to your doctor immediately.
Sudden Changes In Your Nails
Color or form changes in your nails such as clubbing is a big indicator or lung cancer. Although theyre hard to notice, its important to pay attention to and record any changes over a short period of time.
Chronic Cough, Shortness Of Breath & Wheezing
Small white spots inside your mouth or on your lips are both signs of oral cancer. This is especially true with those who smoke cigarettes!
Sore, Swollen or Red Breasts
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