Diagnosing Metastatic Breast Cancer
Getting a clear picture of where breast cancer has spread is essential for creating a personalized treatment plan. Your care team will likely use a combination of the following tests and tools to diagnose both localized and advanced breast cancer:
Ultrasound exam: With this imaging technique, sound waves create a picture of internal areas of the body.
Magnetic resonance imaging : This procedure produces detailed images using magnetic fields and radio waves.
Blood chemistry studies: A blood sample is taken to measure the amounts of certain substances that are released by your organs and tissues. A higher or lower amount of a particular substance may be a sign of disease.
Breast biopsy: A biopsy is the removal of cells or tissues so a pathologist may view them through a microscope. Your original breast cancer diagnosis was likely confirmed with a biopsy.
Cancer Cure And All Clear
Many people who have cancer want to know if theyre cured. You may hear words like cure and all clear in the media.
Cured means theres no chance of the breast cancer coming back. However, its not possible to be sure that breast cancer will never come back. Treatment for breast cancer will be successful for most people, and the risk of recurrence gets less as time goes on. Recurrence, unfortunately, can happen even many years after treatment, so no one can say with certainty that youre definitely cured.
All clear, or in remission which is another term you may have heard used, means theres no obvious sign of cancer at the moment.
If your breast cancer has spread to other parts of your body this will affect your prognosis. Secondary breast cancer can be treated, sometimes for many years, but not cured. Find out more about secondary breast cancer.
In order to be as clear as possible, your treatment team is more likely to talk about your chances of survival over a period of time or the possibility of remaining free of breast cancer in the future.
I Have To Prioritize And Try Not To Sweat The Small Stuff
For Sendelbach, each week begins with a list of her priorities. Obviously, getting to my doctors appointments is very important, she says. But if the clothes arent folded, is that a dire situation? Absolutely not!
Sendelbach has learned to make compromises: If her husband and son have to pick up their clean clothes from the couch, she can live with that.
I have learned, she says, to look at every situation and ask if this is going to truly make a difference in my day or my familys day for better or worse. If the answer is no, then that task might be left undone.
It wasnt always this way for Sendelbach, though. When she was first diagnosed with cancer, her son was just a year old and she had been married for only two and a half years. You know how it is when you first have a baby if everything isnt perfect, then the world is falling apart! she laughs. Now, to us we ate, were all still alive, the house is acceptable if were good, its all okay.
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Disease Free Intervals And Prognosis In Metastasis
The time that passes between the primary diagnosis and treatment of breast cancer and a diagnosis of metastasis is also of prognostic significance.
A 2015 medical study from the Netherlands looked at 815 patients with metastatic breast cancer between 2007 and 2009 in eight hospitals.
Of these 815 patients, 154 had metastatic spread at diagnosis. 176 patients had a metastatic free interval of less than 2 years and 485 patients had been metastasis-free for longer than 2 years.
The ladies presenting with metastatic breast cancer at diagnosis had a longer survival rate than those who experienced a recurrence at distant sites in under 2 years from the initial diagnosis of breast cancer.
However, there were no differences in survival rates between those diagnosed at Stage IV and those women who had metastatic spread over 2 years after an original breast cancer diagnosis and treatment.
Furthermore, some medical studies show that survival rates vary for different types and subtypes of breast tumors according to the time intervals of recurrence. So, for example, breast cancer survival rates comparing two cancers may be better at a 5-year interval for some cancers but even out over 15 years.
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How Your Prognosis Might Affect You
It can be difficult to take in and make sense of information about your prognosis. Having a good prognosis may reassure you, although you may still worry. If your prognosis is less good, you may feel anxious about the future. However you feel, theres no evidence that peoples attitude to having cancer alters their prognosis.
No tests can tell you with complete certainty what will happen to you. Sometimes people with a poor prognosis live for a long time. Equally, breast cancer can come back in people with a seemingly excellent prognosis.
Its normal to want to make plans for the future and the uncertainty about a diagnosis of breast cancer can be hard to live with. Most people find that it gets easier over time but sometimes you may need more support. This can come in all sorts of ways: from your friends or family, your breast care nurse, specialist or GP. You can also be referred to a counsellor who is trained to help people explore their feelings following a diagnosis of, and treatment for, breast cancer.
Whatever challenges or concerns youre facing, Breast Cancer Now is here to support you. Whether you want to speak to our nurses, join our online Forum or connect with volunteers who have faced what youre facing now, we can help you feel more in control.
For more information, visit our support for you section.
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How Is Stage 4 Breast Cancer Treated
The aim of treatment is to improve the quality and length of life of people with stage 4 breast cancer. Each person will be treated differently based on the disease characteristics and the intended goals of treatment.
Most treatments aim at decreasing the tumor burden and stabilizing the disease. In general, stage 4 cancer treatmentsalthough they may extend life in a significant number of peopleare considered palliative . This is because only a handful of people treated at this stage are cured of their disease.
Survival Rates For Breast Cancer
Survival rates can give you an idea of what percentage of people with the same type and stage of cancer are still alive a certain amount of time after they were diagnosed. They cant tell you how long you will live, but they may help give you a better understanding of how likely it is that your treatment will be successful.
Keep in mind that survival rates are estimates and are often based on previous outcomes of large numbers of people who had a specific cancer, but they cant predict what will happen in any particular persons case. These statistics can be confusing and may lead you to have more questions. Talk with your doctor, who is familiar with your situation, about how these numbers may apply to you.
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How Is Inflammatory Breast Cancer Treated
Inflammatory breast cancer is generally treated first with systemic chemotherapy to help shrink the tumor, then with surgery to remove the tumor, followed by radiation therapy. This approach to treatment is called a multimodal approach. Studies have found that women with inflammatory breast cancer who are treated with a multimodal approach have better responses to therapy and longer survival. Treatments used in a multimodal approach may include those described below.
Pearls And Other Issues
Breast cancer patients are advised to be followed up for life to detect early recurrence and spread. Yearly or biannual follow-up mammography is recommended for the treated and the other breast. The patient must be informed that they must visit a breast clinic if they have any suspicious manifestations. Currently, there is no role for repeated measurements of tumor markers or doing follow-up imaging other than mammography.
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Survival Rate With Metastatic Breast Cancer
Many people wonder about the life expectancy for stage 4 breast cancer . It’s important to note that everyone is different and survival rates vary widely. There are some people who survive many years and even decades with stage 4 disease. At the same time, it’s important to understand that stage 4 breast cancer isn’t curable.
It can be helpful to look at current statistics and consider the many variables that affect life expectancy. While it’s important not to raise false hope, it may help to know the reality that there are some long-term survivors.
Some people want to know the statistics, but many don’t. If you’re living with stage 4 breast cancer, there is absolutely no requirement that you know the prognosis. The information provided here is only for those who truly wish to know what the current research iseven this research has many limitations.
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N Categories For Breast Cancer
N followed by a number from 0 to 3 indicates whether the cancer has spread to lymph nodes near the breast and, if so, how many lymph nodes are involved.
Lymph node staging for breast cancer is based on how the nodes look under the microscope, and has changed as technology has gotten better. Newer methods have made it possible to find smaller and smaller groups of cancer cells, but experts haven’t been sure how much these tiny deposits of cancer cells influence outlook.
Its not yet clear how much cancer in the lymph node is needed to see a change in outlook or treatment. This is still being studied, but for now, a deposit of cancer cells must contain at least 200 cells or be at least 0.2 mm across for it to change the N stage. An area of cancer spread that is smaller than 0.2 mm doesn’t change the stage, but is recorded with abbreviations that indicate the type of special test used to find the spread.
If the area of cancer spread is at least 0.2 mm , but still not larger than 2 mm, it is called a micrometastasis . Micrometastases are counted only if there aren’t any larger areas of cancer spread. Areas of cancer spread larger than 2 mm are known to influence outlook and do change the N stage. These larger areas are sometimes called macrometastases, but are more often just called metastases.
NX: Nearby lymph nodes cannot be assessed .
N0: Cancer has not spread to nearby lymph nodes.
N1c: Both N1a and N1b apply.
N3: Any of the following:
What Is The Risk Of Breast Cancer Spreading To The Brain
Brain metastasis. The risk of breast cancer spreading to the brain is generally highest in those with HER2-positive or triple-negative breast cancer, which are more aggressive subtypes of this disease. About 1015 percent of women with stage 4 breast cancer will develop brain metastasis. Symptoms include: a headache.
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Being Your Own Advocate
While there aren’t currently any studies looking at self-advocacy and survival, being your own advocate can’t hurt in maximizing your survival. Oncology is changing rapidly and it’s difficult for any oncologisteven those who specialize in breast cancerto stay aware of all of the latest research and clinical trials taking place.
It can be helpful to research your cancer yourself. Becoming involved via social media such as Twitter is also an excellent way to learn about the latest research, using the hashtag #bcsm, which stands for breast cancer social media.
Getting a second opinion can be helpful as well, especially from one of the larger cancer centers such as a National Cancer Institute-designated cancer center.
There are ways to learn about opportunities, however, that don’t require traveling for opinions. There are now clinical trial matching services in which a nurse navigator can help to match your particular tumor and characteristics with clinical trials in progress all over the world.
Several of the larger cancer centers are now also offering remote second opinions, in which an oncology team can review your medical information and talk to you on the phone about whether there are any opportunities for treatment for you that may not be available elsewhere.
How The Breast Cancer Staging Process Starts
The breast cancer staging process begins with diagnostic testing. Depending on previous screening results, if any breast cancer symptoms are present, and other factors, your doctor may recommend one of the following tests:
- Diagnostic mammogram A mammogram involves using an X-ray to take photos of your breast tissue at different angles. To do this, your breasts are gently compressed between two plates so the X-ray can be taken.
- Ultrasound An ultrasound is a non-invasive imaging test that bounces soundwaves of your breast tissue to create a picture of the inside of your breast.
- MRI An MRI is another non-invasive imaging test that uses radio waves and a magnetic field to create an image of your breast tissue. This can help doctors determine the size and placement of tumors.
- Biopsy A biopsy removes small masses and growths from your breast so they can be examined under a microscope by a pathologist and determine if theyre cancerous.
If cancer is detected, a CT scan may be ordered to look for any distant metastasis or local invasion to other organs. And youll likely be connected with a breast surgeon right away, either through a nurse navigator or your doctor.
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Why Does Metastatic Breast Cancer Happen
Most often, metastatic cancer occurs because treatment didnt destroy all the cancer cells. Sometimes, a few cells remain dormant, or are hidden and undetectable. Then, for reasons providers dont fully understand, the cells begin to grow and spread again.
De novo metastatic breast cancer means that at the time of initial diagnosis, the breast cancer has already spread to other parts of the body. In the absence of treatment, the cancer spreads.
There is nothing you can do to keep breast cancer from metastasizing. And metastatic breast cancer doesnt happen because of something you did.
What To Do If You Have Breast Cancer
When you learn about such an unpleasant diagnosis, the first thing to do is to avoid panic in any way. Try to pull yourself together. After that, be sure to look for an experienced doctor who will tell you what to do and how to proceed. Only an experienced doctor will be able to give you the right diagnosis, assess your overall condition, and be able to provide assistance that will lead to a positive result.
The main thing, in this case, is to see a professional doctor. Unfortunately, many countries have adopted a radical fight against this disease. Therefore, the question, whether it is possible to cure without surgery, the answer is a resounding no. But in the USA, such treatment can be carried out much more gently. Clinics here offer to conduct surgery for breast cancer, but try to keep as much healthy tissue as possible. In addition, after surgery in such centers, you will certainly be offered plastic surgery to restore the breast.
So, if you or your loved one was diagnosed with breast cancer, even if it is stage 4, do not panic. Find a great oncologist, select the best treatment option, and start it immediately. With this approach, the probability of a positive outcome increases many times. Remember even the worst and most difficult diagnosis can be a thing of the past if you start the right treatment on time and believe in the best outcome.
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How Is Metastatic Breast Cancer Treated
The main treatment for metastatic breast cancer is systemic therapy. These therapies treat the entire body. Systemic treatments may include a combination of:
Your care team will plan your treatment based on:
- Body parts cancer has reached.
- Past breast cancer treatments.
- Tumor biology, or how the cancer cells look and behave.