How Breast Cancer Spreads
Breast cancer can spread through the lymphatic system, the bloodstream, or by local invasionfor instance, when cancer cells actually invade nearby tissues, such as the chest wall or ribs.
When breast cancers spread and enter the lymphatic system, they usually first arrive at nearby lymph nodes and may still be early-stage.
Metastatic breast cancer is the same thing as stage 4 breast cancer and is considered the most advanced stage. It refers to breast cancers that have spread beyond the breast and nearby lymph nodes to other regions of the body, which are called distant metastases.
While treatment options for metastatic breast cancer are similar no matter where cancer has spread, some treatments are used for specific sites of metastasis as well .
What Are The Symptoms Of Metastatic Breast Cancer
Possible symptoms of metastatic breast cancer are listed below. Every womans experience of metastatic breast cancer is different. Symptoms depend on what part of the body is affected. They may develop over weeks or months.Its unlikely that a woman will have all of the symptoms listed below. Some symptoms may not be due to metastatic breast cancer at all.
Why Is It Important To Get A Recommended Biopsy
A biopsy is often the best way to definitively say whether or not you have cancer. Other tools, such as ultrasound and magnetic resonance imaging , can tell the doctor if an area looks suspicious. But in most cases, the only way to make a definitive cancer diagnosis is to perform a biopsy and look at those suspicious cells under a microscope. Many biopsies are performed with imaging guidance, called image-guided biopsies, where tools like ultrasound or computed tomography scans are used to help locate areas of concern and obtain biopsy material.
Sometimes, a biopsy reveals that the suspicious area contains only benign, or non-cancerous, cells. This might mean you do not need treatment, such as surgery, radiation therapy, or chemotherapy. Other times, a biopsy can tell the doctor how aggressive a cancer appears to be and what the extent of the disease may be. This refers to a cancers stage and grade. A biopsy can also explain what type of cancer cells are inside the tumor. All of this information helps determine the best course of action for treating the cancer.
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Newly Diagnosed Or Worried About A Symptom
In the days or weeks after a diagnosis of secondary breast cancer, you may feel distressed and find it hard to think clearly.
You can read our information for people newly diagnosed with secondary breast cancer, including where to find support.
If you havent been diagnosed but are worried about a symptom, find out more about the signs and symptoms of secondary breast cancer.
How Common Are Brain Metastases
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People also ask, can you survive brain metastases?
Early studies of patients with brain metastases revealed poor prognosis with median survival of 1 month reported for patients not treated with either radiation or surgery, and about 3-4 months among treated patients.
Secondly, what are the most common primary malignancies that metastasize to the brain? Metastasis is the most common cause of brain cancer, with primary tumors that originate in the brain being less common. The most common sites of primary cancer which metastasize to the brain are lung, breast, colon, kidney, and skin cancer.
Also to know is, how long can you live with metastatic brain cancer?
Being diagnosed with a brain metastasis used to mean your life expectancy was six months or less, but thats no longer true. With longer survival rates due to a variety of more effective treatments, neurosurgeons are now closely involved in treating metastatic brain cancer.
What are the signs of brain metastases?
Other signs and symptoms of brain metastases include:
- nausea and vomiting.
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Types Of Breast Cancer
There are several types of breast cancer, and any of them can metastasize. Most breast cancers start in the ducts or lobules and are called ductal carcinomas or lobular carcinomas:
- Ductal carcinoma. These cancers start in the cells lining the milk ducts and make up the majority of breast cancers.
- Lobular carcinoma. This is cancer that starts in the lobules, which are the small, tube-like structures that contain milk glands.
Less common types of breast cancer include:
Inflammatory breast cancer is a faster-growing type of cancer that accounts for about 1% to 5% of all breast cancers.
Pagets disease is a type of cancer that begins in the ducts of the nipple.
Breast cancer can develop in women and men. However, breast cancer in men is rare. Less than 1% of all breast cancers develop in men.
Symptoms Of Metastatic Breast Cancer
The symptoms of metastatic breast cancer may be different than those of early-stage breast cancer, but not always. Sometimes, there are no symptoms at all.
You should always speak with your doctor if you experience any new signs or symptoms, but here are some of the most common signs that breast cancer has spread:
- Bone pain or bone fractures due to tumor cells spreading to the bones or spinal cord
- Headaches or dizziness when cancer has spread to the brain
- Shortness of breath or chest pain, caused by lung cancer
- Jaundice or stomach swelling
The symptoms of breast cancer metastasis may also vary depending on where in the body the cancer has spread. For example:
- 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 cancer has spread to bones, symptoms may include pain, fractures or decreased alertness due to high calcium levels.
- If the cancer has spread to the lungs, symptoms may include shortness of breath, difficulty breathing, coughing, chest pain or fatigue.
- If the cancer has spread to the liver, symptoms may include nausea, fatigue, swelling of the feet and hands or yellowing skin.
- If cancer has spread to the central nervous system, which includes the brain or spinal cord, symptoms may include pain, memory loss, headache, blurred or double vision, difficulty with and/or movement or seizures.
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Metastatic Lung Cancer Started Someplace Else
Primary tumors can spread from almost anywhere in the body to your lungs. But some types of cancer are more likely to grow in your lungs. These include:
- Cancer treatments youâve already had
- How you want to treat your cancer
Cancer that has spread to your lungs is also probably in your bloodstream. It could be in places that donât show up on imaging scans. Thatâs why doctors mostly use chemotherapy to treat metastatic lung cancer. It destroys cancerous cells everywhere in your body.
Surgery Is less common. Doctors use it if the tumors are only in a small part of the lung . It can also help when the primary cancer is colorectal cancer, bone cancer, or soft tissue sarcoma.
Other treatment options include:
- Hormonal therapy. This slows the growth of certain types of cancer cells and eases your symptoms.
- Targeted therapy. It uses medications that attach to proteins on cancer cells to stop or slow their growth.
- Immunotherapy. This uses your bodyâs immune system to destroy cancer cells.
- Ablation therapy. It destroys cancer cells or tumors with lasers or electrical currents.
- Radiation. High energy X-rays are used to destroy tumors.
- Thoracentesis. This uses a needle to remove fluid in the space between your lungs and chest wall.
- Oxygen therapy. It helps you breathe.
- Stents. They open up narrowed airways.
Common Sites Of Metastasis
- Brain: 7.3%
- All less common sites: 22.4%
Invasive lobular carcinoma tends to have a significantly different pattern of metastases than ductal breast cancer. In one 2017 study, almost 70% of people with metastases from lobular carcinoma had peritoneal metastases.
For roughly a third of women , cancer spreads to multiple organs at the same time.
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Palliative And Supportive Care
Palliative and supportive care focuses on symptom control and support. Its an extremely important part of the care and treatment for many people with secondary breast cancer and can significantly improve quality of life for them and their families.
People often associate palliative care with end-of-life treatment. However, many people value having it at any stage of their illness, alongside their medical treatment, to help prevent and relieve symptoms such as pain or fatigue. It can also help with the emotional, social and spiritual effects of secondary breast cancer.
The palliative and supportive care teams are based in hospitals, hospices and the community. You can be referred by your treatment team, GP or breast care nurse depending on your situation.
Can You Do Anything To Prevent Or Slow The Spread Of Breast Cancer
Like any type of cancer, there are factors that can put you at higher risk. For breast cancer, these include things like smoking, unhealthy diet, lack of exercise and not performing monthly self-breast exams. Its also important to make sure and get your annual mammogram for breast cancer screening.
Other risk factors can include using hormone-based prescriptions, how many children youve had in the past, getting older and at what age you got your period and went through menopause.
In some instances, you cant necessarily prevent breast cancer, but you can sometimes slow it down, stop it from spreading or reduce the size of the tumor, says Dr. Roesch. You can do this by taking your medications as directed, following through with treatments, going to your appointments and being involved in your cancer care.
Youre in control of taking your medication correctly, eating a healthy diet, participating in an exercise program and managing stress. All of these things can contribute to a stronger physical body and better mental attitude both of which can have a positive impact on your breast cancer diagnosis.
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How Long Can A Person With Lung Cancer Live Without Treatment
Early diagnosis and treatment for lung cancer improve survival rates. Without treatment, the outlook for lung cancer is poor.
A 2013 review of studies found that the average survival time for people with NSCLC who do not receive treatment is just over 7 months . A 2012 review found that the survival time for untreated SCLC is in the range of 24 months.
A persons cancer care team can help them weigh the potential benefits and risks of getting treatment. They may consider the following factors:
- what type and stage of lung cancer the person has
- their age and overall health
- their personal preferences and goals
Treatment may improve survival but can cause side effects that lower quality of life.
When Metastatic Cancer Can No Longer Be Controlled
If you have been told your cancer can no longer be controlled, you and your loved ones may want to discuss end-of-life care. Whether or not you choose to continue treatment to shrink the cancer or control its growth, you can always receive palliative care to control the symptoms of cancer and the side effects of treatment. Information on coping with and planning for end-of-life care is available in the Advanced Cancer section of this site.
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Outcomes And Survival Rates
There is currently no cure for widely metastatic lung cancer. However, advancements in cancer research and treatment continue to improve survival times and quality of life for people living with lung cancer that has metastasized to the brain. Previously, lung cancer with multiple brain metastasis was considered a hopeless diagnosis, but new targeted therapies have changed that. For example, a decade ago, many people with ALK-driven lung cancer were expected to survive six to nine months. Now, they are able to survive an average of four or five years.
It is important not to get discouraged by survival rates you might read online. They are only averages of the millions of people around the world who have dealt with lung cancer and brain metastases each of whom, like you, is in a unique scenario. Some people survive the average amount of time, but there are also many people who survive much longer.
It is also important to remain hopeful as you or your loved one go through this journey. In fact, studies show that people who have high resiliency and greater social and emotional support report a higher quality of life during treatment than people who do not. Having regular follow-ups with your doctor and health care team will also give you the best outcome for your specific situation.
Treatment Options For Metastatic Breast Cancer In The Lungs
Doctors consider metastatic breast cancer to be a stage 4 cancer. It is not curable, and treatments focus on weakening the cancer to stop it from growing while working to improve the quality of life for the individual.
Treatments for metastatic breast cancer in the lungs usually involve systemic, or body-wide, medications that treat cancer throughout the body, such as the following:
Chemotherapy.Chemotherapy is a drug therapy that destroys all fast-growing cells in the body, both cancerous and healthy.
Hormonal therapy. Hormonal therapy is a cancer treatment that controls cancer cell growth by lowering the levels of certain hormones the cancer needs to grow. Hormone receptor-positive breast cancers respond well to this treatment.
Targeted therapy. This form of cancer treatment attempts to treat cancer with more precision than chemotherapy. These treatments target specific receptors, proteins, or molecules on cancer cells that either make it easier for the bodys immune system to identify and destroy cancerous cells or reduce their growth.
Radiation. In the case of metastatic breast cancer, doctors often use radiation therapy to reduce symptoms and control the cancers growth. Radiation therapy can help reduce pain and lower the risk of broken bones weakened due to cancer.
Metastatic breast cancer in the lungs can cause other health complications that impact a persons overall health and wellbeing.
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Support For Living With Secondary Breast Cancer In The Lung
Everyones experience of being diagnosed with secondary breast cancer is different, and people cope in their own way.
For many people, uncertainty can be the hardest part of living with secondary breast cancer.
You may find it helpful to talk to someone else whos had a diagnosis of secondary breast cancer.
- Chat to other people living with secondary breast cancer on our online Forum
- Meet other women with a secondary diagnosis and get information and support at a Living with Secondary Breast Cancer meet-up
- Live Chat is a weekly private chat room where you can talk about whatevers on your mind
You can also call Breast Cancer Nows Helpline free on 0808 800 6000.
Additional Tools For Diagnosing Advanced Breast Cancer
The additional tools below are often used specifically for diagnosing advanced cancer:
Sentinel lymph node biopsy: This procedure removes sentinel lymph node cells during surgery for examination. When breast cancer spreads, it often heads first to the lymph nodes.
Chest X-ray: This detailed image of the chest may help doctors see whether cancer has spread to the bones.
Computed tomography scan: Also known as a CAT scan, this procedure takes detailed pictures of internal areas of the body using a computer linked to an X-ray machine. A dye may be used to help the organs show up more clearly in the images.
Bone scan: This procedure looks for bone metastasis, or cancer cells that have spread to the bone. A small amount of radioactive material is injected into the blood, then detected with a scanner.
Positron emission tomography scan: A PET scan is a detailed imaging tool that uses a radioactive drug, known as a tracer, to search for cancer cells within your body.
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Treatment For Metastatic Breast Cancer
There are a number of different approaches to treating metastatic breast cancer. Every cancer is unique and treatment can be tailored to your specific circumstances.
Doctors usually treat metastatic breast cancer in any part of the body with systemic medications, which treat cancer throughout the entire body. Chemotherapy, hormonal therapy, targeted therapies, and immunotherapy are all systemic medications. Local treatments that target a specific part of the body, such as surgery or radiation, are sometimes recommended.
Most treatment decisions depend on where in the body the cancer has spread, the cancers characteristics , and any cancer treatments youve had in the past.
What Are Biopsies And Why Do I Need One
Biopsies are the most common way that doctors diagnose cancer. During a biopsy, a doctor takes a small piece of tissue, called a sample, from a suspected tumor or area of concern. Then, a pathologist looks at it under a microscope to make a diagnosis. A pathologist is a doctor who specializes in interpreting laboratory tests and evaluating cells, tissues, and organs to diagnose disease, including cancer.
There are many different techniques for collecting a biopsy. For example, in a fine needle aspiration biopsy, the doctor inserts a needle attached to a syringe into the suspicious area to collect a small amount of tissue for diagnosis. In an excisional biopsy, the doctor removes the entire suspicious mass for examination.
Properly performed, biopsies often provide essential information to help diagnose, stage, and inform clinical decision-making for patients with suspected or known cancer. Jeffrey E. Gershenwald, MD, FACS, professor in the Department of Surgical Oncology in the Division of Surgery at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, Texas, and Cancer.Net Editorial Board member.
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Educating Yourself About Lung Cancer:
Diseases of the Lung: Lung metastases Metastatic cancer to the lung
Metastatic cancer to the lung
Metastatic lung cancer is cancer that starts somewhere else in the body and spreads to the lungs.
See also: Lung cancer
Metastatic tumors in the lungs are malignancies that developed at other sites and spread via the blood stream to the lungs. Common tumors that metastasize to the lungs include breast cancer, colon cancer, prostate cancer, sarcoma, bladder cancer, neuroblastoma, and Wilms tumor. However, almost any cancer has the capacity to spread to the lungs.
Note: Sometimes, there are no symptoms.
Exams and Tests
- Surgical lung biopsy
In most cases, metastatic cancer to the lung is a sign that the cancer has spread into the bloodstream. Usually cancer will be present even in places not seen by CT scans. In these circumstances, removing the visible tumors by surgery is usually not beneficial. Chemotherapy is usually the treatment of choice.
Cure is unlikely in most cases. Patients with testicular cancer or lymphoma, however, have a higher likelihood of long-term survival and cure compared with those with most other cancers.
In some circumstances in which the primary tumor has been removed and cancer has spread to only limited areas of the lung, the lung metastases can be removed surgically with the goal of long-term survival or, occasionally, cure.