Stage 4 Survival Rates
To get a perspective on the difference in survival rates during different stages of cancer, according to the American Cancer Society the rate of survival after diagnosis is:
- For those at stage 2 there is an expected five-year survival rate of over 90%.
- For those at stage 3 there is an expected five-year survival rate of 72%.
- For stage 4 there is an expected five-year survival rate of 22%.
Because the earlier stages of breast cancer have much longer survival rates, early detection and treatment are important.
How To Handle Emotions
Coping with the many symptoms that can occur with stage 4 breast cancer can be frustrating and discouraging, and people sometimes wonder if they will have to feel poorly the rest of their lives. Anxiety and depression are also severe for some people with advanced disease.
Fortunately, palliative care team consults are now offered at many cancer centers. While hospice is a form of palliative care, palliative care can be helpful even with early, curable tumors. Working with a palliative care team to address physical and emotional issues frees you up to work with your oncologist on issues that treat your cancer specifically.
While the research is also young, it appears that those people who receive palliative care consults not only have a better quality of life with advanced cancer, but they may actually live longer, too.
Blood Tests For Tumor Markers
In some cases, blood tests for tumor markers may be used to help monitor metastatic breast cancer.
For example, you may have blood tests every few months for cancer antigen 15-3 or cancer antigen 27.29 . These tests are similar. Health care providers usually check one, but not both of these blood tests.
Whether the tumor marker test score rises or falls over time may give some information on tumor response to a drug or tumor spread.
Tumor marker tests are not helpful in every case. Some people with rising tumor marker levels dont have tumor growth, and some people with tumor growth have normal or unchanged tumor marker levels.
Health care providers dont make treatment decisions based on serum tumor marker testing alone. They may combine findings from a tumor marker test with information on symptoms and findings from imaging tests . This combined information can help your health care providers understand if a treatment is working well for your cancer.
Talk with your health care provider about whether tumor marker testing is right for you.
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Is Stage 4 Breast Cancer Curable
Theres currently no cure for stage 4 breast cancer, but with treatments it can be kept under control, often for years at a time.
People with metastatic breast cancer need to receive treatments for the rest of their lives. If a certain treatment stops being effective, another treatment regimen may be tried.
Research Into Advanced And Metastatic Breast Cancer
As metastatic breast cancer remains the leading cause of death from breast cancer, NBCF is committed to funding a broad spectrum of research that helps to further understand breast cancer metastasis, develop improved treatment options and enhance patient quality of life for those with metastatic breast cancer.
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Myth #: Metastatic Breast Cancer Is Curable
Whether metastatic breast cancer is someones first diagnosis or a recurrence after treatment for earlier-stage breast cancer, it cant be cured. However, treatments can keep it under control, often for months at a time. People with MBC report fielding questions from family and friends such as, When will you finish your treatments? or Wont you be glad when youre done with all of this? The reality is they will be in treatment for the rest of their lives.
A typical pattern is to take a treatment regimen as long as it keeps the cancer under control and the side effects are tolerable. If it stops working, a patient can switch to another option. There may be periods of time when the cancer is well-controlled and a person can take a break. But people with MBC need to be in treatment for the rest of their lives.
As Breastcancer.org Community member Vlnprh of Wisconsin comments: The vast majority of people have no idea what MBC treatment involves. They somehow think that you will undergo something similar to early-stage patients surgery, radiation, chemo, whatever and then be done. They want to see you as a pink-tutu-wearing cheerleader jumping up and down declaring that you have beaten this disease
Amarantha of France writes: The one I get over and over is, How long will you be on this chemo? I mean doesn’t it end sometime? Yes, it ends when it stops working and then we go on to another treatment lather, rinse, repeat I guess until we run out of options.
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.
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Metastatic Breast Cancer Scans
Diagnostic scans are performed to find out if you have MBC and to measure response to treatment or progression of metastatic tumors. No matter how many times you have been through a scan, there is often anxiety involved in either the process itself or waiting for results. This is normal.
The most typical scans are:
Bone scans reveal if cancer has spread to the bones. In most MBC cases, metastases first occur in the bones. These scans look at the bones for hot spots that may reveal cancer. To conduct a bone scan, your healthcare provider injects dye, then waits a few hours for it to move through the bloodstream so it can be visible in the scan.
A chest x-ray may reveal if breast cancer has spread to the lungs. Metastases in the lungs rarely cause pain, but they can cause shortness of breath or a cough that wont go away.
This scan provides a more-detailed x-ray of the body, usually in order to look for metastases in the brain, lungs and/or liver. Before the scan, you will either ingest a contrast dye and/or have it injected into a vein. The dye highlights specific areas of the body more clearly. A computer rotates around the body, creating a three-dimensional image.
A liver scan involves having a contrast dye injected into the vein. The dye will collect in areas where there is activity that could indicate cancer growth.
PET CT Scan
Metastatic Breast Cancer Treatment And Planning
After a diagnosis of metastatic breast cancer, its helpful to take all the time you need to gather information and make decisions about your treatment. Learn about the medical specialists that may be involved in your care, treatment options, genetic testing, taking a break from treatment, and more.
SurgeryDoctors sometimes recommend surgery for metastatic breast cancer in order, for example, to prevent broken bones or cancer cell blockages in the liver. Learn more.
ChemotherapyChemotherapy is used in the treatment of metastatic breast cancer to damage or destroy the cancer cells as much as possible. Learn more.
Radiation TherapyYour doctor may suggest radiation therapy if youre having symptoms for reasons such as easing pain and controlling the cancer in a specific area. Learn more.
Hormonal TherapyHormonal therapy medicines are used to help shrink or slow the growth of hormone-receptor-positive metastatic breast cancer. Learn more.
Targeted TherapyTargeted therapies target specific characteristics of cancer cells, such as a protein that allows the cancer cells to grow in a rapid or abnormal way. Learn more.
Local Treatments for Distant Areas of MetastasisLocal treatments are directed specifically to the new locations of the breast cancer such as the bones or liver. These treatments may be recommended if, for example, the metastatic breast cancer is causing pain. Learn more.
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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.
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.
Tests To Diagnose Metastatic Breast Cancer
If you have any of the symptoms of metastatic breast cancer, your doctor may recommend one or more of the following tests:
- blood tests
- whole-body bone scan, with or without X-rays of specific bones
- MRI of the spine or brain
- CT scan of the chest, abdomen, pelvis, and/or brain
- PET scan
- X-ray or ultrasound of the abdomen or chest
- bronchoscopy if you have a constant cough or trouble breathing
- biopsy of any suspicious area
- a “tap,” removal of fluid from the area with symptoms to check for cancer cells a pleural tap removes fluid between the lung and chest wall and a spinal tap removes fluid from around the spinal cord
You can read the following pages for information on symptoms of breast cancer metastasis and diagnosis:
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Treatment Options For Stage Iv Breast Cancer
For women with stage IV breast cancer, systemic therapies are the main treatments. These may include:
- Some combination of these
Treatment can often shrink tumors , improve symptoms, and help women live longer. These cancers are considered incurable.
What Is Metastatic Breast Cancer
Metastatic breast cancer occurs when cancer that started in the breast spreads to another part of the body. Its also known as stage 4 breast cancer.
There isnt a cure currently for metastatic breast cancer, but treatments can help relieve symptoms, improve quality of life, and prolong life.
The outlook for people with metastatic breast cancer and the length of time between a stage 4 diagnosis and the onset of end-of-life symptoms varies greatly.
Research suggests that about 27 percent of people who receive a metastatic breast cancer diagnosis live at least 5 years after their diagnosis.
Keep in mind that these statistics cant predict your personal outlook. Many individual factors play a role in survival rates.
Newer treatments are helping extend lives and improve the quality of life for people with metastatic breast cancer.
Regardless of what stage of cancer you have, its important to be informed.
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Living With Stage : The Breast Cancer No One Understands
Editor’s note: We’re bringing back this piece from October 2014 for Metastatic Breast Cancer Awareness Day and to honor Jody Schoger, featured in the story. Schoger died of metastatic breast cancer in May. Want to learn more about MBC? Look for our tweets at the Northwest Metastatic Breast Cancer Conference this Saturday at Fred Hutch.
A no-nonsense Texan of 60 years, Jody Schoger* has a very no-nonsense way of educating people about her metastatic breast cancer.
âSomeone will say, âWhen are you done with treatment?â and Iâll tell them, âWhen Iâm dead,ââ said Schoger, a writer and cancer advocate who lives near Houston. âSo many people interpret survivorship as going across the board. That everybody survives cancer now. But everybody does not survive cancer.â
An estimated 155,000-plus women in the U.S. currently live with âmets,â or metastatic breast cancer. This type of cancer, also called stage 4 breast cancer, means the cancer has metastasized, or traveled, through the bloodstream to create tumors in the liver, lungs, brain, bones and/or other parts of the body. Between 20 and 30 percent of women with early stage breast cancer go on to develop metastatic disease. While treatable, metastatic breast cancer cannot be cured. The five-year survival rate for stage 4 breast cancer is 22 percent median survival is three years. Annually, the disease takes 40,000 lives.
Local Or Regional Treatments For Stage Iv Breast Cancer
Although systemic drugs are the main treatment for stage IV breast cancer, local and regional treatments such as surgery, radiation therapy, or regional chemotherapy are sometimes used as well. These can help treat breast cancer in a specific part of the body, but they are very unlikely to get rid of all of the cancer. These treatments are more likely to be used to help prevent or treat symptoms or complications from the cancer.
Radiation therapy and/or surgery may also be used in certain situations, such as:
- When the breast tumor is causing an open wound in the breast
- To treat a small number of metastases in a certain area, such as the brain
- To help prevent bone fractures
- When an area of cancer spread is pressing on the spinal cord
- To treat a blood vessel blockage in the liver
- To provide relief of pain or other symptoms
In some cases, regional chemo may be useful as well.
If your doctor recommends such local or regional treatments, it is important that you understand their goalwhether it is to try to cure the cancer or to prevent or treat symptoms.
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Systemic Treatments For Stage Iv Breast Cancer
Treatment often continues until the cancer starts growing again or until side effects become unacceptable. If this happens, other drugs might be tried. The types of drugs used for stage IV breast cancer depend on the hormone receptor status and the HER2 status of the cancer:
Hormone receptor-positive cancers
Women with hormone receptor-positive cancers are often treated first with hormone therapy . This may be combined with a targeted drug such as a CDK4/6 inhibitor, everolimus or a PI3K inhibitor.
Women who havent yet gone through menopause are often treated with tamoxifen or with medicines that keep the ovaries from making hormones along with other drugs. Because hormone therapy can take months to work, chemo is often the first treatment for patients with serious problems from their cancer spread, such as breathing problems.
Hormone receptor-negative cancers
Chemo is the main treatment for women with hormone receptor-negative cancers, because hormone therapy isnt helpful for these cancers.
Trastuzumab may help women with HER2-positive cancers live longer if its given along with chemo or with other medications such as hormonal therapy or other anti-HER2 drugs. Pertuzumab , another targeted drug, might be added as well. Other options might include targeted drugs such as lapatinib or ado-trastuzumab emtansine .
HER2-negative cancers in women with a BRCA gene mutation
HER2-negative breast cancers in women with a PIK3CA mutation
About Metastatic Breast Cancer
Cancer begins when healthy cells change and grow out of control, forming a mass or sheet of cells called a tumor. A tumor can be cancerous or benign. A cancerous tumor is malignant, meaning it can grow and spread to other parts of the body. A benign tumor means the tumor can grow but will not spread.When breast cancer is limited to the breast and/or nearby lymph node regions, it is called early stage or locally advanced. Read about these stages in a different guide on Cancer.Net. When breast cancer spreads to an area farther from where it started to another part of the body, doctors say that the cancer has metastasized. They call the area of spread a metastasis, or use the plural of metastases if the cancer has spread to more than 1 area. The disease is called metastatic breast cancer. Another name for metastatic breast cancer is “stage IV breast cancer if it has already spread beyond the breast and nearby lymph nodes at the time of diagnosis of the original cancer.
Doctors may also call metastatic breast cancer advanced breast cancer. However, this term should not be confused with locally advanced breast cancer, which is breast cancer that has spread to nearby tissues or lymph nodes but not to other parts of the body.
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Triple Negative Breast Cancer
With this type of breast cancer, the breast cancer cells dont have ER+ or PR+ receptors. They dont overproduce the HER2 protein, so hormone therapy isnt very effective.
Instead, triple negative stage 4 breast cancer is usually treated with chemotherapy. Radiation therapy may also be an option, depending on the site of metastasis.
Metastatic Breast Cancer Is Terminal
Metastatic breast cancer cant be cured and it is terminal. One thing I didnt know when I was first diagnosed is that breast cancer can only kill you if you have metastatic breast cancer, says Rosen, who explains that if your cancer remains in the breast, the tumor can be removed, but metastatic means it has spread outside the breast.
MBC is almost like a different disease than early-stage breast cancer, adds Ann Silberman, 60, from Sacramento, California, who was diagnosed in 2009. We are going to die. Our concerns are much different from those of a person who has a treatment that will be over . Someone in an earlier stage may worry about losing their hair which is understandable but they will return to their normal life at some point.
People with metastatic breast cancer expect to be on treatment for the rest of their lives. I dont think everyone understands that, Silberman says. I still get, When will your treatment be over? Well, its never going to be over.
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