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How Do You Know If You Have Metastatic Breast Cancer

Treatment For Physical Symptoms

10 facts you should know about breast cancer

The American Cancer Society urge that a person should not have to endure pain in the final months and days of life.

Many people find relief with opioid medications, but these can cause side effects such as fatigue and constipation. A person may use opioids in combination with other pain relief medications, such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen.

Other drugs, such as antidepressants and antiseizure medications, can also treat certain types of pain.

Doctors can also prescribe medications for nausea and vomiting. Some drugs for treating nausea can make a person drowsy. However, these drugs may help people eat and drink more or simply make it easier for them to function and interact with other people.

Why Cancer Cells Tend To Spread To The Parts Of The Body They Do

Where a cancer starts is linked to where it will spread. Most cancer cells that break free from the primary tumor are carried in the blood or lymph system until they get trapped in the next downstream organ or set of lymph nodes. This explains why breast cancer often spreads to underarm lymph nodes, but rarely to lymph nodes in the belly. Likewise, there are many cancers that commonly spread to the lungs. This is because the heart pumps blood from the rest of the body through the lungs blood vessels before sending it elsewhere.

What Are The Systemic Symptoms Of Metastatic Breast Cancer

As with any cancer that has progressed throughout the body, there are some systemic, or full-body symptoms of metastatic breast cancer. However, because these symptoms also overlap with symptoms of many other health conditions, it’s best to consult with your doctor before jumping to any conclusions to ensure you get proper treatment.

In the case of metastatic breast cancer, these systemic symptoms are a result of your cancer cells starving your body of nutrients. “When you have metastatic disease, the body is really competing with the cancer for survival, nutrition, and energy,”Evelyn Toyin Taiwo, MD, hematologist and oncologist at Weill Cornell Medicine and NewYork-Presbyterian Brooklyn Methodist Hospital, tells Health.“The body has to work a little bit harder than it normally does [to function.” Here are some of the more common full-body symptoms of metastatic breast cancer:

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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.

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.

Important Causes Of Metastatic Breast Cancer

How to Know if You Have Breast Cancer

We can easily assess from the above paragraphs that metastatic breast cancer can mean harm to many organs of the body. It is just because of its rapid transmitting habit. So, the blood vessels are heavily targeted when someone suffers from metastatic blood cancer. Eventually, the abnormal cells easily find the pathway through the medium of lymph nodes and attack the body. Normally, the lymph nodes,as well as the blood vessels, are the main source from where blood flows and circulates all over the body. So, the possibility for the growth of tumors in varied areas of the body is quite common in this regard.

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Symptoms When Breast Cancer Has Spread To The Bones

The main symptoms of breast cancer that has spread to bone are:

  • Pain particularly in the back, arms or legs, often described as gnawing which occurs when resting or sleeping, and may get worse when lying down especially at night
  • Fractures

Find out more about the symptoms of secondary breast cancer.

Other possible effects include:

Local And Regional Recurrence Of Breast Cancer

Breast cancer that comes back in the breast, chest, scar or lymph nodes nearby is called a local or regional recurrence. This is not secondary breast cancer. If you have a local or regional recurrence, you may have tests to check the cancer has not spread to other parts of the body.

We have more information about breast cancer recurrence.

See also

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End Of Life Concerns With Metastatic Breast Cancer

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?

Association: Metastatic Breast Cancer And Anemia

Metastatic Breast Cancer – You Have Metastatic Disease. Now What?

Firstly, the treatment of metastatic breast cancer becomes much necessary to avoid any further complexities. This opinion is the same as the oncologists of the Hcg Hospital, Ahmedabad is concerned. So, while the process of curing the patient having this kind of cancer, anemia forms automatically. However, the formation of anemia in cancer patients can be quite deadly and the life expectancy rate naturally decreases for the patient quite soon.

Following that, receiving treatment for breast cancer with the help of chemotherapy can also end up with the complications of anemia. However, it is just on the level of malignancy that the anemia concentration is understood. It is called mild as well as moderate hemoglobin and causes anemia. But, very few people are prone to anemia which is life-taking. Still, the seriousness of the disease cant be avoided at all costs. However, people having both metastatic breast cancer as well as anemia can have a bad impact on their health and its results can shock anyone.

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How To Tell Your Partner Or Spouse

Good communication is essential to any healthy relationship. Regardless of whether youre discussing money concerns, sex, or your health, its important to talk honestly and openly with each other. Its also critical that you listen closely.

Remember that your partner will likely be as overwhelmed and frightened by the news of your cancer as you were. Give them time to adjust.

Let them know what you need during this time. If you want your partner to be an active participant in your treatment, tell them so. If youd prefer to take care of everything yourself, make that clear.

Also, talk to your partner about what they need. They may be concerned about your ability to handle your end of the household responsibilities. Try to figure out solutions together, asking for help in areas like cooking or grocery shopping that you know you wont be able to handle, while also respecting your partners needs.

If possible, let your spouse come with you to a doctors appointment. Learning more about your cancer and its treatments will help them better understand what lies ahead.

Schedule time each week for the two of you to spend time together and just talk. You should feel comfortable expressing whatever emotions arise from anger to frustration. If your partner isnt supportive or cant handle your diagnosis, consider meeting with a couples counselor or therapist.

Why Does My Provider Need To Test The Metastatic Tumor

Your care team will test the metastases to figure out the biology of the tumor, which can help guide your treatment plan. Providers may test tumors for:

  • Hormone receptor status: If the cancer is hormone receptor-positive, hormonal therapy may be your first treatment.
  • HER2 status: Human epidermal growth factor receptor 2 is a protein that is overexpressed on some breast cancer cells. HER2-positive cancer responds to specific HER2-targeted therapies.
  • PIK3CA gene mutation: If a tumor is hormone receptor-positive and HER2-negative, your provider may test for this gene mutation. Specific targeted therapies can be used to treat tumors with this mutation.
  • PD-L1 status: Tumors that are hormone receptive-negative and HER2-negative may be tested for PD-L1 status. If the PD-L1 test is positive, you may be recommended to receive a combination of immunotherapy and chemotherapy.

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Talking To Your Healthcare Provider

It is crucial that you talk to your oncologist and healthcare team about any and all symptoms you are experiencing. Some of these symptoms, such as pain, are under-treated in people with metastatic cancer. This is not because healthcare providers fail to treat the symptoms, but because they are simply unaware that a person is coping with them.

Breast Cancer Doctor Discussion Guide

Get our printable guide for your next healthcare provider’s appointment to help you ask the right questions.

With all of the talk about people with cancer being brave or strong, you might hesitate to share symptoms that could make you appear frightened or weak. Yet facing metastatic cancer is frightening, and being able to share your concerns is a sign of strength, not weakness. There is a lot that can be done to ease most of the symptoms of metastatic breast cancer, but the only way that your oncologist can know what you are feeling is if you are brave enough to speak up.

In addition, sharing your symptoms, even if they may seem of little consequence to you, may help your oncologist better recognize the extent of your disease, anticipate potential complications, and suggest the best possible treatments for your disease.

How Having Metastatic From The Start Might Influence Treatment

Breast Cancer

There are some advantages for women diagnosed with de novo metastatic breast cancer compared to women who have progressed following an early breast cancer. The main advantage is that their cancer is treatment naïve, meaning it has not previously been exposed to any anti-cancer treatments and is therefore likely to be more responsive to treatment. There have been some reports of small numbers of women who may even be cured from metastatic breast cancer in this circumstance. In addition, there are more treatment options available than for those who have received previous treatment for early breast cancer who may have already used up some of their options.

The one positive was that my oncologist said that he more or less had an open book of treatments that he could offer me.

Another positive that women sometimes describe is that they can feel the cancer in their breast getting smaller once treatments starts. Mammograms and breast ultrasounds may be used as a way of checking that the cancer in the breast is responding to treatment. Many women find this reassuring, knowing that the treatment they are having is working for them.

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Undergoing Medical Screening For Breast Cancer

  • 1Get a clinical breast exam. When you go in for your yearly physical or pelvic exam, ask your physician to do a manual check of your breasts for any suspicious lumps or other changes. Physicians are trained in how to do a breast exam and will know what to look for. This is why you should never try to replace this exam, though sometimes uncomfortable and awkward, with your own self-examination.XResearch source
  • Your doctor will begin by checking the appearance of your breasts. You will be asked to raise your arms over your head and then hang them down by your sides while the doctor examines the size and shape of your breasts. You will then undergo a physical examination. While you lie down on the examination table, your doctor will use the pads of their fingers to examine the entire breast area, including the armpits and collarbones. The exam should last for only for a few minutes.XResearch source
  • If you feel uncomfortable, you can ask for a nurse or family member to be present in the room for the exam. If youâre a female patient seeing a male doctor, this is standard procedure in most cases. If you feel any anxiety, take a deep breath and remind yourself that this is a necessary part of keeping an eye on your health.
  • Diagnostic mammogram: A breast X-ray to evaluate the lump. This may take longer than a screening mammogram because more images will be required.
  • It’s important to note that 80% of women have a breast biopsy do NOT have breast cancer.XResearch source
  • 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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    Receptors For Secondary Breast Cancer

    Breast cancer cells may have receptors . Hormones, or a protein called HER2, can attach to the receptors and encourage the cells to grow. A doctor called a pathologist tests cancer cells taken during a biopsy or surgery for these receptors. Your doctor uses the results of these tests to help plan your treatment.

    If you have had primary breast cancer before, the receptors may not be the same as when you were first diagnosed. This may mean different treatments are useful. Your doctor may be able to diagnose a secondary cancer from your scan results. But they may still recommend a biopsy to find out more about the cancer cell receptors.Cancer that does not have receptors for either hormones or HER2 is called triple negative breast cancer.

    Questions To Ask About Living With Metastatic Breast Cancer

    Breast Cancer What You May Not Know But Should
    • What level of caregiving will I need at this time?

    • Where can I find emotional support for me and my family?

    • What other services are available to me and my family?

    • If I am worried about managing the costs of cancer care, who can help me? Who can help me understand what is covered by my insurance?

    • Do you have a social worker I can speak with?

    • What should I tell my employer, if anything, and what laws protect my rights as an employee?

    • If I have questions or problems, who should I call?

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    How To Tell Your Parents

    Nothing is more devastating to a parent than learning their child is sick. Telling your parents about your diagnosis may be difficult, but its a necessary conversation to have.

    Plan the talk for a time when you know you wont be interrupted. You might want to practice having the discussion ahead of time with your partner or a sibling.

    Be clear about how you feel and what you need from your parents. Pause every now and then to confirm that theyre clear on what youve said, and to ask if they have any questions.

    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

    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.

    Chest X-Ray

    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.

    CT/CAT Scan

    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.

    Liver Scan

    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 Scan

    PET CT Scan

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