What To Know About Breast Cancer Growth
Breast cancer occurs when normal cells mutate and multiply faster than usual. One cell divides to become two cells, then each of those cells divides to become four cells, and so on. The uncontrolled multiplication of cancer cells creates tumors within the breast tissue.
The speed at which a cancer progresses depends on the growth rate of the cancer cells. It is hard to estimate cancer growth because not all cancer cells multiply and divide at the same speed.
In most cases, breast cancer initially develops in either the milk ducts or the lobules, which are the glands that produce milk, before expanding into the breast tissue.
Breast cancer that develops in ducts or lobules can spread to the connective tissue. From there, it can spread to the surrounding lymph nodes.
Once in the lymph nodes, the cancer cells can enter the lymphatic system or the bloodstream, where they can move to other areas of the body.
What Should I Ask My Healthcare Provider About Metastatic Breast Cancer
If youve been diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer, ask your provider:
- What are my treatment options?
- What is my prognosis?
- What side effects can I expect?
- Will complementary therapy help me feel better?
- What if I want to stop treatment?
- How can I feel my best during treatment?
A note from Cleveland Clinic
Metastatic breast cancer is advanced breast cancer. Providers classify it as stage 4 breast cancer. It happens when cancer cells, often left behind after previous breast cancer treatment, start to spread to other parts of the body. While there is no cure for metastatic breast cancer, treatment can prolong your life and help you feel better. There are many medications available, so if one treatment isnt working, your care team can try a different approach. If you notice any symptoms or dont feel your best, especially if youve undergone breast cancer treatment in the past, talk to your healthcare provider.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 04/14/2021.
What Tumor Factors Threaten My Life More
There are important tumor biology factors not well reflected in survival statistics by breast cancer stage. Below we list a few important factors that carry a higher risk to life beyond just the stage of cancer. You must ask your surgeon or medical oncologist to explain your receptor status and give you a copy of your biopsy pathology report.
Triple Negative Receptor breast cancer
Triple negative breast cancer is considered a more aggressive breast cancer. Invariably it does require chemotherapy. If you have triple negative breast cancer the risk of dying is higher than the standard statistics usually quoted for a particular stage of breast cancer . Learn more about Triple Negative Breast Cancer with our video lesson
HER2-Positive breast cancer
HER2-positive breast cancers are also more aggressive tumors. But the good news is that we now have incredibly effective, targeted chemotherapy and immunotherapy for HER2-positive cancers. Our video lesson covers HER2-Positive Breast Cancer in more detail .
Breast Cancer at a Young Age
Women younger than 40 have a higher chance of being diagnosed with a more advanced stage breast cancer. Also, the specific cancer type younger women develop has a higher chance of being more aggressive . As a result, age is a relative risk factor for survival.
Untreated breast cancer
Teaching everyone to be an expert in their own breast cancer care.
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Probability Of Cancer Progression
How long the remission period can last is one of the most frequently asked questions by patients with stage 4 breast cancer. The answer to this question depends on a number of factors that come in.
First, tumors may have a different tendency to grow. Slowly growing tumors mean longer remission and longer life expectancy. Second, age is important. In young patients, cancer tends to be more aggressive and resistant to treatment. Third, the localization of metastases plays an important role. Metastasis to bone or lymphatic tissue is a more prognostic option for treatment than lung, liver, and especially brain damage.
Another very important factor is the tumors responsiveness to the therapy. In women with hormone-positive breast cancer, in which the tumor reacts well to hormone therapy, life expectancy can be 10-15 years, even taking into account the 4th stage of the disease. For comparison, the life expectancy of patients with metastatic triple-negative breast cancer is only one year.
What Are Cancer Survival Statistics
A key part of making a prognosis is looking at survival rates. These are numbers researchers collect over many years in people with the same type of cancer. These numbers are based on large groups of people. For breast cancer, there are two main measurements:
Breast cancer survivalrates reflect the percentage of women who are alive 5 years or longer after their diagnosis. This means the numbers are based on women who were found to have breast cancer at least 5 years ago. Advances in diagnosing and treating cancer have led to steadily improving survival rates, so the outlook for women diagnosed today is likely better.
Relative survival rates dont take into account the cause of death. Theyre a measure of the percentage of people with cancer who have lived for a certain time after diagnosis, compared with people who did not have cancer.
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Treatment Of Stage Iii Breast Cancers
Sometimes large breast cancers invade into muscles or attach to major arteries, veins or nerve trunks, which makes them impossible to surgically remove completely.
So, for these patients, the treatment usually starts with radiation or chemo to try to shrink it first, before surgery. But even a large tumor that has not attached itself onto muscle can, sometimes, be completely removed. There is no direct relationship between tumor size and whether or not it may be treated surgically or not.
Obviously, Stage 3 breast cancers that surgeons can completely remove do tend to have a significantly better prognosis than inoperable stage 3 breast cancers. However, some breast tumors, particularly those that are ER-positive, respond very well to chemotherapy. So well, in fact, that they actually downstage.
So, it is difficult to predict the overall prognosis for stage 3 breast cancer, as it will vary from individual to individual. If the response to chemotherapy is favorable, the overall survival rate is around 72%.
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.
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What Does The Pain Feel Like When You Have Breast Cancer
Breast cancer can cause changes in skin cells that lead to feelings of pain, tenderness, and discomfort in the breast. Although breast cancer is often painless, it is important not to ignore any signs or symptoms that could be due to breast cancer. Some people may describe the pain as a burning sensation.
Ovarian Ablation Or Suppression
In women who have not yet experienced the menopause, oestrogen is produced by the ovaries.
Ovarian ablation or suppression stops the ovaries working and producing oestrogen.
Ablation can be done using surgery or radiotherapy. It permanently stops the ovaries from working and means you’ll experience the menopause early.
Ovarian suppression involves using a medicine called goserelin, which is a luteinising hormone-releasing hormone agonist .
Your periods will stop while you’re taking it, although they should start again once your treatment is complete.
If you’re approaching the menopause , your periods may not start again after you stop taking goserelin.
Goserelin comes as an injection you have once a month.
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Mortality Rates Versus Number Of Breast Cancer Deaths
Sometimes its useful to have an estimate of the number of people expected to die from breast cancer in a year. This numbers helps show the burden of breast cancer in a group of people.
Numbers, however, can be hard to compare to each other. To compare mortality in different populations, we need to look at mortality rates rather than the number of breast cancer deaths.
How Quickly Does Breast Cancer Grow
Breast cancer has to divide 30 times before it can be felt. Up to the 28th cell division, neither you nor your doctor can detect it by hand. With most breast cancers, each division takes one to two months, so by the time you can feel a cancerous lump, the cancer has been in your body for two to five years.
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What Is Stage 3 Breast Cancer
Also known as locally advanced breast cancer, the tumor in this stage of breast cancer is more than 2 inches in diameter across and the cancer is extensive in the underarm lymph nodes or has spread to other lymph nodes or tissues near the breast. Stage 3 breast cancer is a more advanced form of invasive breast cancer. At this stage, the cancer cells have usually not spread to more distant sites in the body, but they are present in several axillary lymph nodes. The tumor may also be quite large at this stage, possibly extending to the chest wall or the skin of the breast.
Stage 3 breast cancer is divided into three categories:
Stage 3A: One of the following is true:
- No tumor is found in the breast, but cancer is present in axillary lymph nodes that are attached to either other or other structures, or cancer may be found in the lymph nodes near the breast bone, or
- The tumor is 2 cm or smaller. Cancer has spread to axillary lymph nodes that are attached to each other or other structures, or cancer may have spread to lymph nodes near the breastbone, or
- The tumor is 2 cm to 4 cm in size. Cancer has spread to axillary lymph nodes that are attached to each other or to other structures, or cancer may have spread to lymph nodes near the breast bone, or
- The tumor is larger than 5 cm. Cancer has spread to axillary lymph nodes that may be attached to each other or to other structures, or cancer may have spread to lymph nodes near the breastbone.
Clinical Manifestations Of Stage 4
The main classification signs of breast cancer stage 4 are its spread to remote organs or lymph nodes. The size of the tumor at this stage is no longer important moreover, it may no longer be detected at the primary site.
It is the metastases that most often develop in the liver, lungs, and bones that give information about the development of the oncological process. They are painful and cause vivid symptoms. Metastases in the liver give jaundice and increase abdominal size. Metastases in the lungs give shortness of breath, and in the bones severe pain and frequent fractures.
- severe intoxication
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Poor Appetite And Weight Loss
Sometimes people with secondary breast cancer cant eat as much as usual. This means they have difficulty maintaining their weight as well as providing the body with energy. Low energy levels can affect mobility and might make it harder to manage any symptoms such as breathlessness.
Poor appetite can be due to the effects of the cancer, treatment or anxiety. A small number of people may have difficulty swallowing.
You might find it easier to eat little and often instead of having set meals. If you still feel you arent eating enough, are losing weight or have no interest in food, talk to your doctor or specialist nurse about dietary supplements or ask to speak to a dietitian for specialist advice.
In some circumstances you may be prescribed medication to help stimulate your appetite.
What Affects Survival
Your outlook depends on the stage of the cancer when it was diagnosed. This means how big it is and whether it has spread.
The type of cancer and grade of the cancer cells can also affect your survival. Grade means how abnormal the cells look under the microscope.
Your general health and fitness also affect survival, the fitter you are, the better you may be able to cope with your cancer and treatment.
Another factor that can affect survival is whether the cancer cells have receptors for particular cancer drugs.
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What Is A 5
A relative survival rate compares women with the same type and stage of breast cancer to women in the overall population.For example, if the 5-year relative survival rate for a specific stage of breast cancer is 90%, it means that women who have that cancer are, on average, about 90% as likely as women who dont have that cancer to live for at least 5 years after being diagnosed.
What Is Secondary Breast Cancer In The Lung
Secondary breast cancer in the lung happens when breast cancer cells spread to the lung. It can also be known as lung metastases or secondaries in the lung.
Secondary breast cancer in the lung is not the same as cancer that started in the lung.
Usually secondary breast cancer occurs months or years after primary breast cancer. But sometimes its found at the same time as the primary breast cancer, or before the primary breast cancer has been diagnosed. In this situation, the breast cancer has already spread to the other parts of the body such as the lung. This is referred to as de novo metastatic breast cancer, meaning the breast cancer is metastatic from the start.
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Dilemmas Of Stage Iv Breast Cancer
Indeed, there are many serious and personal questions involving stage IV breast cancer. So, overall survival is less likely, and gains from intensive breast cancer treatment are unfortunately rather modest. A serious consideration is, therefore, quality of life during the course of treatment.
These decisions tend to be a dynamic process, based on individual cases, between patients and physicians. Respect needs to be given to the expectations for treatment, the status of the disease and the patient wishes.
Exercise And Secondary Breast Cancer In The Lung
Some people with secondary breast cancer in the lung have no symptoms while others have a combination of pain, sickness, loss of appetite, hiccups, tiredness and fatigue. While physical activity may help reduce some symptoms its important to listen to your body and not push yourself too hard. Gentle, regular activity, such as walking, is often most effective.
If youre currently having treatment you may need to exercise at a slightly lower level. Stop if it hurts or feels like youre working too hard.
When choosing your exercise, try to focus on aerobic activities such as walking, swimming or cycling. Activities such as dancing and gardening can also be beneficial. You could also include some light toning or conditioning exercises such as stretching or low-impact yoga. The most important thing is to choose something you can safely enjoy.
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Relative Survival Rate By Stage
The survival rates by stage are based on the stage at the time of diagnosis. Youve probably been given a number and letter for your cancer stage. Here, the terms localized, regional, and distant are used instead of numbers and letters. Heres what they mean and the 5-year relative survival rates for each:
- Localized breast cancer is only in the breast. This includes stage IA , some IIA , and some IIB . The 5-year relative survival rate is 99%.
- Regional breast cancer has spread to nearby tissue or lymph nodes. This includes stage IB , some IIA , some IIB , and all stage III . The 5-year relative survival rate is 86%.
- Distant breast cancer has spread to other parts of the body. This includes stage IV, pronounced stage 4). The 5-year relative survival rate is 28%.
Myth #: If An Earlier
Ninety percent of MBC diagnoses occur in people who have already been treated for an earlier-stage breast cancer. Many people are under the impression that remaining cancer-free for 5 years means that a metastatic recurrence cant happen. However, distant recurrences can occur several years or even decades after initial diagnosis. Factors such as original tumor size and the number of lymph nodes involved can help predict the risk of recurrence.
For example, a 2017 survey of 88 studies involving nearly 63,000 women diagnosed with early-stage, hormone-receptor-positive breast cancer found that the risk of distant recurrence within 20 years ranged from 13% to 41%, depending on tumor size and lymph node involvement.1
As KatyK of Idaho comments: that you are cured if you are cancer-free 5 years after initial diagnosis. I fell for that one myself. When I was diagnosed with MBC 12 years after initial diagnosis I was shocked. I thought I was cured, which to me means all better. Nope! Not even sure medically what cured means.
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Plans Have To Be Flexible
My energy is unpredictable, says Sendelbach. I literally never know how Im going to feel from one day to the next. Its so hard to make plans because if I say yes to something thats two weeks away, the day of, I could wake up and feel absolutely horrible.
When someone with metastatic breast cancer declines an invitation or cancels at the last minute, its most likely not because they dont want to be there. Says Sendelbach, We physically cant do it.
Silberman agrees. Ive been going through for a long time, she says, and Ive had friends drop away. Because of MBC and my treatments, its hard for me to be reliable.