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HomeTrendingHow Do You Die From Breast Cancer Metastasis

How Do You Die From Breast Cancer Metastasis

The Advocate Steps Up

How Cancer Spreads (Metastasis) – Michael Henry, PhD

She didn’t start out as an advocate for Black patients with cancer. Jamil Rivers was a breast cancer patient herself, and doing well. Other patients would drop by the chemo infusion room and ask her for advice.

“They were saying, ‘Hey, you seem to be doing OK. You know, can you share what you know?’ And then it just kind of grew from there” into a nonprofit Rivers founded, called the Chrysalis Initiative.

“I would always hear that the reason why Black women were dying at such a higher rate from breast cancer was social and biological differences and poverty and all these different rationales,” Rivers says. “But then, as I started finding out more, I found that the biggest contributor was actually the racism.”

Risks/chances Of Breast Cancer Metastasis To Liver

There are a slight number of cases early in cancer diagnosis that already have breast cancer metastasis to the liver. The number totals around less than 5 percent of all breast cancer diagnoses. In cases of early breast cancer that is still only in breast tissue, risk increases depending on the person, health status, and time after cancer treatment.

If you have been diagnosed with breast cancer metastases, there will be some increased challenges in treating and slowing the progression. It depends on the stage of cancer, the treatment, and time since diagnosis.

Metastasis occurs when the cancer has spread to the lymph nodes and hitches a ride into other organs. At first, the cancer goes into the lymph nodes near the armpit “axillary lymph nodes.” At this stage, there is a possibility of curing the cancer. If the cancer moves beyond the axillary lymph nodes, there is no cure but it is treatable.

Path of Breast Cancer Spreading to the Liver

Breast cancer spreading into your liver takes a certain path in stages. These are:

  • Invasion of Local Tissue

The cancer cells invade the local breast tissue and form tumors. The cells then grow into tissue around the breasts. It begins to take over all the healthy tissue in the area. The cancer moves outside of the breast tissue or “margins.”

  • Lymph Node Invasion
  • Circulation
  • Arrest and Invasion of Liver
  • Growth of Tumors
  • Growth of Blood Supply

Where Did Everybody Go

Tiffany Hawkins is 52 years old, and says she’s always been a fighter. She was diagnosed with MBC in 2017.

“The doctors are truly amazed at how long I’ve been going. I’m spoiled I almost forgot that I had this.”

It’s all the more surprising because Hawkins has triple negative MBC, which means you can’t treat it with hormonal therapy, as you can with most Stage 4s. It’s most common among Black women, like Hawkins, and the death rates are higher in this group than for any U.S. racial or ethnic group, at 26.8 per 100,000 annually.

But lately her tumors have been progressing.”From maybe less than a centimeter to five in like a month,”says Hawkins.

Meanwhile, as her cancer has grown, she notices, her friends have been dwindling away. She has two grown sons, and they’re supportive, but her boyfriend of 5 years ghosted her. Other friends have stopped calling.

Read Also: Stage 3 Invasive Breast Cancer

Survival Rates Of Bone Metastases

Survival rates for people with bone metastases vary greatly by cancer type and stage. Your general health condition and the type of treatment you received for the primary cancer are additional factors.

Discuss your particular situation with your doctor. Remember that survival rates are averages gathered from large numbers of people. Also, survival data may reflect statistics from a period before the most recent treatment advances.

A large-scale 2017 study of the 10 most common cancers with bone metastasis found:

  • Lung cancer had the lowest 1-year survival rate after bone metastasis .
  • Breast cancer had the highest 1-year survival rate after bone metastasis .
  • Having metastases in bone and also in other sites was found to decrease the survival rate.

Here are some typical figures from a 2018 study of common cancers and bone metastasis:

Type of cancer

Youre likely to have a combination of therapies that may include:

  • radiation to slow metastasis growth and reduce pain
  • chemotherapy to kill cancer cells and reduce tumor size
  • hormone therapy to reduce the hormones known to be involved with breast and prostate cancer
  • painkillers and steroids for pain relief
  • drugs that specifically target bones
  • surgery if necessary to stabilize your bone, fix a break, and help with pain
  • physical therapy to strengthen your muscles and help you with mobility
  • extreme heat or cold that targets cancer cells and may relieve pain

End Of Life Concerns With Metastatic Breast Cancer

metastatic breast cancer  Get Up Swinging

Despite encouraging advances in breast cancer treatment that have dramatically prolonged survival even when diagnosed at a metastatic stage, there still is a significant group of less fortunate patients that die from this condition every year.

The usual scenario goes like this: People with metastatic breast cancer want to talk about these concerns, but are afraid to upset their loved onesso they stay quiet. On the other side, loved ones are afraid of upsetting you by talking about the end of life issuesso they say nothing.

The same holds true even for patients and oncologists, and studies tell us that these conversations take place much less often than they should.

Many people fear these discussions are a sign of giving up. However, talking about your wishes does not mean you are giving up at all. It does not mean that you have lost hope that you will be one of the people who live for decades with stage 4 breast cancer. What it means, instead, is that you want your decisions to be thought out, and not left to chance. It’s a way to communicate your wishes before circumstances may force you to do so.

The best place to start is with the most important step. How can you begin these discussions with your loved ones?

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What Are The Symptoms

Breast cancer that spreads to the liver does not usually cause any symptoms.

A doctor is more likely to find the cancer on a liver function test. The liver function test uses a blood sample to determine the level of liver enzymes and proteins in the blood.

If liver metastasis does cause symptoms, they can include:

  • fever

There is currently no cure for MBC, so treatment usually focuses on slowing the growth of the tumor and improving a persons quality of life. Treatment can also help increase the persons lifespan.

Treatment for MBC may not be as aggressive as it is in the earlier stages of breast cancer. In the earlier stages of breast cancer, doctors try to remove or destroy the cancer altogether.

If it metastasizes, doctors use medication to help control the cancer and slow its growth, which increases life expectancy.

According to the , systematic medications are the main treatment for MBC. These include:

  • immunotherapy
  • hormone therapy
  • targeted drugs

A doctor may suggest a combination of these therapies. They may also recommend radiation therapy or surgery in some situations.

People with MBC should discuss with a doctor what treatments may be best for them. Some factors to consider include:

  • the symptoms present

Someone with MBC that has spread to the liver may live for several more years with successful treatment.

Since there is currently no cure, treatment tends to focus on slowing the growth and spread as well as managing the symptoms.

Clinical Trials Are A Promising Treatment Option

For people with advanced stages of cancer, clinical trials can be considered the gold standard of treatment. I recommend clinical trials highly, says Rosen. You get access to medication and treatment that you normally wouldnt have.

A clinical trial could even have positive results on your cancer. We are living in an exciting time for cancer treatment, says Kimmick. There are myriad new drugs coming out that will improve the lives of all women with breast cancer, both metastatic and early stage.

However, its important to be realistic about the potential outcome of your trial. Rosen was recently enrolled in a clinical trial in which the medication proved toxic for her. But she has no regrets about participating. It feels like Im helping researchers who are working on cures for cancer, she says. When I had a bad reaction to the drug, they were able to put my side effects in their study. I feel like I did help, and that makes me happy.

People interested in joining a clinical trial for treatment should talk to their doctor about options that might be good for them.

Recommended Reading: How Long Is Breast Cancer Treatment

My Social Worker Suggested That I Reframe My Thoughts

Change your thoughts around to make the situation easier to mentally deal with. When we assume we are dying of cancer, all treatments and side effects will seem worse. This was my experience.

My social worker suggested that I reframe my thoughts around living with cancer instead. It does take a long time, but most days, I do not feel gloomy about it.

The second piece of advice if you want a natural mood booster is walking. I walk approximately an hour a day, always outside, even if cold and snowy. I believe the fresh air and exercise aid my sleep and any side effects I may get from ongoing treatment, and boosts my overall mood.

What Are The Symptoms Of Metastatic Cancer

SAY IT: Metastatic Breast Cancer

The symptoms produced by metastatic breast cancer vary depending on the location of the metastases.

For example, metastatic disease to the bone causes severe, progressive pain, and less commonly, pathological fracture, erythema over the affected bone and swelling.

Breast cancer cells that have spread to the brain cause persistent, progressively worsening headache, visual changes, seizures, nausea, vomiting, vertigo, behavioral and personality changes and increased intracranial pressure.

Metastatic disease to the liver causes jaundice, elevated liver enzymes, abdominal pain, loss of appetite, nausea, and vomiting.

Metastatic breast cancer to the lung or pleura causes chronic cough, dyspnea, abnormal chest x-ray, and chest pain.

In addition, general, non-specific systemic symptoms of metastatic breast cancer include fatigue, malaise, weight loss and poor appetite.

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Can Metastatic Breast Cancer Go Into Remission

Metastatic breast cancer may never go away completely. But treatment can control its spread. Cancer may even go into remission at some points. This means you have fewer signs and symptoms of cancer.

A treatment break may be considered in certain situations, including if remission occurs or if someone is experiencing intolerable side effects. A pause in treatment can help you feel your best and improve your quality of life.

What Is The Prognosis Of Patients With Inflammatory Breast Cancer

The prognosis, or likely outcome, for a patient diagnosed with cancer is often viewed as the chance that the cancer will be treated successfully and that the patient will recover completely. Many factors can influence a cancer patients prognosis, including the type and location of the cancer, the stage of the disease, the patients age and overall general health, and the extent to which the patients disease responds to treatment.

Because inflammatory breast cancer usually develops quickly and spreads aggressively to other parts of the body, women diagnosed with this disease, in general, do not survive as long as women diagnosed with other types of breast cancer.

It is important to keep in mind, however, that survival statistics are based on large numbers of patients and that an individual womans prognosis could be better or worse, depending on her tumor characteristics and medical history. Women who have inflammatory breast cancer are encouraged to talk with their doctor about their prognosis, given their particular situation.

Ongoing research, especially at the molecular level, will increase our understanding of how inflammatory breast cancer begins and progresses. This knowledge should enable the development of new treatments and more accurate prognoses for women diagnosed with this disease. It is important, therefore, that women who are diagnosed with inflammatory breast cancer talk with their doctor about the option of participating in a clinical trial.

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Pregnant With Cancer: One Woman’s Journey

“She was tiny, but was ready to go home,” says Loniewska. “Now I’m 42 and feel like I’m much, much older.”

But she’s hung in there. She taking five different drugs, some hormonal, some for her bones, some chemo. And continuously running through her mind have been worries about the future.

“Like, what type of life will I be able to get give her and for how long? It has been a very dark time.”

Recurrent Breast Cancer: Facts And Figures

Metastatic Breast Cancer

Breast cancer can return at any point after the initial diagnosis and treatment. This is one of the most anxiety-provoking factors for many women after breast cancer diagnosis and treatment.

There are 3 types of cancer recurrence:-

  • Localized: The cancer returns to the original site where it started.
  • Regional: The cancer has spread to nearby lymph nodes, tissues or organs
  • Distant: The cancer has spread to distant body sites such as the bone, brain, liver or lungs.
  • It is very difficult to predict how many breast cancers of all stages recur, at local, regional and distant sites.

    Indeed, breast cancer incidence and mortality rates are documented over the years. However, data on most cancer registries do not document the incidence of recurrence.

    Furthermore, a local or regional recurrence does not have the same prognostic impact as distant metastasis. Even more difficult to handle, is that cancer can recur at any given point in time.

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    What Is The Chance I Could Die In The Next 5 Years

    The average 5-year survival rate for all people with breast cancer is 89%. The 10-year rate is 83%, and the 15-year rate is 78%. If the cancer is located only in the breast , the 5-year survival rate is 99%. More than 70% of breast cancers are diagnosed at an Early Stage.

    All survival statistics are primarily based on the stage of breast cancer when diagnosed. Some of the other important factors are also listed below that affect survival.

    Stage 0 breast cancer can be also described as a pre-cancer. If you have DCIS you can be quite confident you will do well. DCIS does not spread to other organs. What can be concerning is when an invasive cancer grows back in the area of a prior lumpectomy for DCIS. This type of local recurrence does carry a risk to your life. Luckily, this does not happen frequently. Also, be aware that those who have had DCIS in the past are at a higher risk for developing an entirely new, invasive breast cancer. Take our video lesson on Non-Invasive DCIS to learn more.

    Stage I invasive breast cancer has an excellent survival rate. The chance of dying of Stage I breast cancer within five years of diagnosis is 1 to 5% if you pursue recommended treatments.

    Stage II breast cancer is also considered an early stage of breast cancer. There is a slightly increased risk to your life versus a Stage I breast cancer. Altogether, the risk of Stage II breast cancer threatening your life in the next 5 years is about 15%.

    From Cured To Stage 4

    Others, like Teri Pollastro, a 54-year-old stage 4 patient from Seattle, respond surprisingly well.

    Diagnosed with early stage ductal carcinoma in situ in 1999, Pollastro underwent a mastectomy but did not receive chemotherapy, radiation or tamoxifen, since her cancer was ER negative.

    âThey used the C-word with me, they told me I was cured,â she said. âEvery time I went back to my oncologist, he would roll his eyes at me when I had questions.â

    In 2003, Pollastro switched to Seattle Cancer Care Alliance where she saw Dr. Julie Gralow, a breast cancer oncologist and clinical researcher at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center. Gralow discovered Pollastroâs cancer had metastasized to her liver.

    âMy husband and I were in shock,â said Pollastro of her mets diagnosis. âYou donât go from being cured to stage 4.â

    Pollastro went on Herceptin, a type of immunotherapy for women with HER2-positive metastatic breast cancer, and did six months of chemotherapy.

    âI felt better right away with the treatment,â she said. âBut the problem is, it stopped . Thatâs what you can expect with mets. And thereâs always some residual cancer. And that starts percolating.â

    And along with mets, she also had to deal with many misconceptions regarding her disease.

    The Mercer Island, Washington, mother of two, who often counsels newly diagnosed patients, sometimes even found it difficult to relate to early stage breast cancer survivors.

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    Can Metastatic Breast Cancer Be Cured

    There is no cure for metastatic breast cancer. Once the cancer cells have spread to another distant area of the body, its impossible to get rid of them all. However, the right treatment plan can help extend your life and improve its quality.

    Metastatic breast cancer treatment aims to shrink tumors, slow their growth and improve your symptoms.

    Seek Counseling With Someone Experienced In Newly Diagnosed Patients

    Metastasis: How Cancer Spreads

    My husband and I met twice with a counselor it was hugely helpful in getting through the first two months. She helped us understand and accept our feelings and suggested a few coping mechanisms that helped tremendously. My most difficult issue was dealing with the reactions of friends and family. Her advice really helped us through that difficult time. I would recommend to anyone to seek counseling with someone experienced in newly diagnosed patients. Sherriw

    Also Check: How Fast Does Triple Negative Cancer Grow

    Treatment Of Stage Iv Breast Cancer

    Stage IV cancers have spread beyond the breast and nearby lymph nodes to other parts of the body. When breast cancer spreads, it most commonly goes to the bones, liver, and lungs. It may also spread to the brain or other organs.

    For women with stage IV breast cancer, systemic drug therapies are the main treatments. These may include:

    • Some combination of these

    Surgery and/or radiation therapy may be useful in certain situations .

    Treatment can often shrink tumors , improve symptoms, and help some women live longer. These cancers are considered incurable.

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