Living With Stage : The Breast Cancer No One Understands
Editors note: Were 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.
Is Tumour Dormancy The Sole Explanation For Recurrence
In pondering the mechanisms of metastatic relapse among breast cancer patients, one obvious question is whether early recurrence is simply the consequence of direct metastatic outgrowth, whereas late relapses reflect a period of tumour dormancy. To address this query, it is imperative to consider how long it takes for a single cancer cell to grow into a clinically detectable metastasis. Pioneering measurements of breast tumour volume doubling time carried out by radiographic analysis on more than 800 women concluded that it takes ~12 years on average for a single cell with a 10-µm diameter to reach a clinically detectable mass of 1cm,, and that metastases can have a TVDT up to twofold higher than their matched primary tumours. However, these initial analyses focused on a small number of samples, without taking into account the vast heterogeneity among breast tumours or the effect that adjuvant therapies might have on their growth rate, as the subjects in this study were untreated.
Fig. 3: The puzzling timing of metastatic relapse in breast cancer patients.
You Must Know How Breast Cancer Spread Faster
In the United States, Breast cancer is the most common cancer diagnosis among women these days.
It is complicated to estimate how a persons breast cancer will change over a year. Several types of breast cancer grow at different rates, and many parts affect its growth and spreading chances.
Here we discuss how breast cancer can spread faster, the common ways it can progress, and the long-term risk for the disease.
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What Is Breast Cancer
Breast cancer is a type of cancer that starts in the breast. It can start in one or both breasts.
Cancer starts when cells begin to grow out of control.
Breast cancer occurs almost entirely in women, but men can get breast cancer, too.
Its important to understand that most breast lumps are benign and not cancer . Non-cancer breast tumors are abnormal growths, but they do not spread outside of the breast. They are not life threatening, but some types of benign breast lumps can increase a woman’s risk of getting breast cancer. Any breast lump or change needs to be checked by a health care professional to find out if it is benign or malignant and if it might affect yours future cancer risk. See Non-cancerous Breast Conditions to learn more.
What Is The Lymph System
The lymph system is a part of your bodys immune system. It includes a network of lymph vessels and lymph nodes. Lymph vessels are a lot like the veins that collect and carry blood through the body. But instead of carrying blood, these vessels carry the clear watery fluid called lymph. Lymph fluid also contains white blood cells, which help fight infections.
Lymph fluid would build up and cause swelling if it were not drained in some way. Lymph vessels draw up the lymph fluid from around the cells to send it towards the chest. There, lymph fluid collects into a large vessel that drains into a blood vessel near the heart.
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Stages Of Breast Cancer: Stage Iiic
Stage IIIc breast cancers basically involve tumors of any size with significant metastases to:-
- the lymph nodes behind the sternum
- lymph nodes under the arm
- the lymph nodes above or below the collarbone
The extent and depth of lymph node involvement make these patients unsuitable candidates for surgical treatment as a primary mode of therapy. Chemotherapy is the treatment of choice for women with stage IIIb and IIIc breast cancers.
However, up to 70% of patients with stage III breast cancers who have chemotherapy remain alive and disease-free after 7 years.
Symptoms Of Breast Cancer In The Bones
Although metastatic breast cancer can potentially occur in any bone in the body, it most often affects the ribs, spine, pelvis and long bones in the arms and legs. Breast cancer that has spread to the bones may cause:
- Sudden bone pain, such as hip or back pain, which may feel similar to the discomfort associated with arthritis or exercise strain but is persistent or progressively worse even with rest or conservative measures
- An increased risk of bone fractures that result from minimal trauma, such as a minor fall
- An elevated level of calcium in the blood, which can lead to fatigue, nausea, dehydration and loss of appetite
- Numbness or muscle weakness in an arm or leg
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.
What Is Metastatic Cancer
Cancer that spreads from where it started to a distant part of the body is called metastatic cancer. For many types of cancer, it is also called stage IV cancer. The process by which cancer cells spread to other parts of the body is called metastasis.
When observed under a microscope and tested in other ways, metastatic cancer cells have features like that of the primary cancer and not like the cells in the place where the metastatic cancer is found. This is how doctors can tell that it is cancer that has spread from another part of the body.
Metastatic cancer has the same name as the primary cancer. For example, breast cancer that spreads to the lung is called metastatic breast cancer, not lung cancer. It is treated as stage IV breast cancer, not as lung cancer.
Sometimes when people are diagnosed with metastatic cancer, doctors cannot tell where it started. This type of cancer is called cancer of unknown primary origin, or CUP. See the Carcinoma of Unknown Primary page for more information.
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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.
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.
Most Common Places It Spreads
It’s still breast cancer, even if it’s in another organ. For example, if breast cancer spreads to your lungs, that doesn’t mean you have lung cancer. Although it can spread to any part of your body, there are certain places it’s most likely to go to, including the lymph nodes, bones, liver, lungs, and brain.
What Are The Signs Of Distant Breast Cancer Recurrence
If your breast cancer has spread to other parts to the body, known as distant recurrence, there are a number of possible symptoms, including:
- Unexpected weight loss or change in appetite
- Severe or ongoing headaches
However, symptoms will vary depending on where the secondary cancer presents. Sometimes recurrence is identified on a scan or blood test that was done for a reason other than breast cancer.
Studies have shown that doctors are sometimes reluctant to mention the symptoms of metastatic disease. In medical school it was suggested that we shouldnt tell people who had been treated for cancer what to look for if they were worried about recurrences because theyd start imagining that they had every symptom we told them about, but that doesnt reassure people at all it just means theyll be afraid of everything instead of a few specific things. When youve had cancer, youre acutely aware of your body, and any symptom thats newor that you never noticed beforecan take on terrifying significance as you worry that your cancer may be back. Inevitably this will mean a lot of fear over symptoms that turn out to be harmless.
As I explain to my patients, there are good reasons these days to remain optimistic, even after cancer comes back. Newer, better treatments are becoming available all the time. And for women who were treated a long time ago, the options for treatment may have changed and improved significantly since the first time they were treated
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Which Lymph Nodes Are Involved In Breast Cancer Spread
Several groups of lymph nodes are near the breast, and these are the ones that breast cancer can spread to first. The nearest lymph node groups are:
Supraclavicular lymph nodes located above the collarbone, or clavicle.
When breast cancer spreads to lymph nodes, it can sometimes cause them to become fixed in position and stuck together . Lymph nodes that are matted generally have more cancer cells than those that are still mobile or movable.
What Is Secondary Breast Cancer
Secondary breast cancer is when cancer cells from a cancer that started in the breast spread to other parts of the body. The cancer that started in the breast is called primary breast cancer.Secondary breast cancer is also called advanced breast cancer or metastatic breast cancer. The most common places for breast cancer to spread to are the:
Rarely, breast cancer may spread to other parts of the body, such as the bone marrow, ovaries or lining of the tummy which is called the peritoneum.
Breast cancer can spread to different parts of the body. This does not mean it will go to all these places.
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Enhancing Healthcare Team Outcomes
After the treatment of breast cancer, long-term follow-up is necessary. There is a risk of local and distant relapse, and hence an interprofessional team approach is necessary. The women need regular mammograms and a pelvic exam. Also, women with risk factors for osteoporosis need a bone density exam and monitoring for tumor markers for metastatic disease. For those who are about to undergo radiation therapy, a baseline echo and cardiac evaluation are necessary. Even though many types of integrative therapies have been developed to help women with breast cancer, evidence for the majority of these treatments is weak or lacking.
Over the past four decades, the survival rates of most breast cancer patients have improved. Of note is that the presence of breast cancer has gradually slowed down over the past decade, which may be due to earlier detection and improved treatments. The prognosis for patients with breast cancer is highly dependent on the status of axillary lymph nodes. The higher the number of positive lymph nodes, the worse the outcome. In general, hormone-responsive tumors tend to have a better outcome. In breast cancer survivors, adverse cardiac events are common this is partly due to the cardiotoxic drugs to treat cancer and the presence of traditional risk factors for heart disease. The onus is on the healthcare provider to reduce the modifiable risk factors and lower the risk of adverse cardiac events. [Level 5)
What Is Stage Ii Breast Cancer
Stage II describes cancer that is in a limited region of the breast but has grown larger. It reflects how many lymph nodes may contain cancer cells. This stage is divided into two subcategories.
Stage IIA is based on one of the following:
- Either there is no tumor in the breast or there is a breast tumor up to 20 millimeters , plus cancer has spread to the lymph nodes under the arm.
- A tumor of 20 to 50 millimeters is present in the breast, but cancer has not spread to the lymph nodes.
Stage IIB is based on one of these criteria:
- A tumor of 20 to 50 millimeters is present in the breast, along with cancer that has spread to between one and three nearby lymph nodes.
- A tumor in the breast is larger than 50 millimeters, but cancer has not spread to any lymph nodes.
Types Of Mammary Tumors
The diagnostic process of possible mammary cancer can identify the type of tumor your pet has. Some of the most well-known include:
- Inflammatory carcinoma: This is the most malignant type and could rapidly spread throughout the dogs body.
- Adenocarcinoma: One of the most common types of tumors
- Fibroadenoma: A type of benign tumor that is typically painless
- Mixed mammary tumor: The most frequently occurring tumor in dogs
Treatment Options For Metastatic Breast Cancer
Treatment for metastatic breast cancer often is based on systemic therapies, which use drugs rather than surgery or radiation. Metastases treatments are designed to shrink tumors and slow their growth, help ease symptoms and improve quality of life. Treatment may change, such as when one therapy stops working, or the side effects become too uncomfortable. Rather than having only one treatment, most patients undergo several treatments combined to help fight the cancer.
The four broad categories of drug-based treatments are:
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What Is A Breast Made Of
Both men and women have breasts, but women have more breast tissue than men.
The female breast is made of different components, including:
- lobules, which produce breast milk
- ducts, which carry milk to the nipple
- fatty tissue and connective tissue, which surround the lobules and ducts.
All breasts contain fatty and fibrous tissue. Lobules can also be referred to as glandular tissue. The male breast has ducts but few or no lobes or lobules.
Breast tissue extends from the collarbone to lower ribs, sternum and armpit.
Functional Stratification: A New Way To Look At Breast Cancer
As mentioned above, current breast cancer staging is heavily dependent upon the evaluation of pathology specimens. However, recent findings suggest that functional classification of breast tumours may become an important addition to risk prediction and prognosis. Results from preclinical animal models suggest that it might be possible to classify breast cancers on a functional basis, as determined by their ability to promote outgrowth of micrometastatic tumour populations at distant sites. Of note, as presented at the recent Nobel Conference on Breast Cancer, we have the ability to use human tumour cell lines and fresh surgical specimens in our xenograft model to test their ability to promote systemic instigation and/or respond to a protumorigenic host systemic environment .
The ability to determine whether or not a given tumour has the potential to promote the dissemination of tumour cells from the primary tumour, support the proliferation of otherwise indolent disseminated cells or activate systemic signalling pathways that recruit bone marrow cells to the developing tumour stroma of a metastatic lesion would have significant implications for treatment strategies . The ability to use tumour tissue in functional assays to predict tumour behaviour may enable more accurate identification of patients with a high likelihood of future relapse, thereby allowing for potentially curative treatment during the therapeutic window in which the disease can be controlled.
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