The Importance Of Screening
If youve been diagnosed with breast cancer, and especially if you have higher risk due to a hereditary gene mutation or other factors, screening can mean earlier detection of a recurrence or new breast cancer. Regular breast cancer screenings have been shown to reduce the risk of dying from breast cancer and increase survival rates.
Talk with your healthcare team about the type of screening plan thats best for you.
Below you can find articles, personal stories, and downloadable resources with more information about diagnosis, talking with family, and finding emotional support.
When Do People Get A Metastatic Breast Cancer Diagnosis
Metastatic breast cancer can occur at different points:
- De novo metastatic breast cancer: About 6% of women and 9% of men have metastatic breast cancer when theyre first diagnosed with breast cancer.
- Distant recurrence: Most commonly, metastatic breast cancer is diagnosed after the original breast cancer treatment. A recurrence refers to the cancer coming back and spreading to a different part of the body, which can happen even years after the original diagnosis and treatment.
Survival Rates For Breast Cancer
Survival rates can give you an idea of what percentage of people with the same type and stage of cancer are still alive a certain amount of time after they were diagnosed. They cant tell you how long you will live, but they may help give you a better understanding of how likely it is that your treatment will be successful.
Keep in mind that survival rates are estimates and are often based on previous outcomes of large numbers of people who had a specific cancer, but they cant predict what will happen in any particular persons case. These statistics can be confusing and may lead you to have more questions. Talk with your doctor about how these numbers may apply to you, as he or she is familiar with your situation.
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What Happens If You Have 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 therapies are the main treatments. These may include:
Many Women Live For Decades With Metastatic Breast Cancer
A stage 4 diagnosis is not an instant death sentence, says Renee Sendelbach, 40, from Austin, Texas, who was diagnosed seven years ago, when she learned that her breast cancer had moved into her lungs, bones, and lymph nodes.
Ive had metastatic breast cancer for five years and Im still kicking, says Susan Rosen, 53, from Franklin, Massachusetts.
According to a 2017 article in the journal Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention, 34 percent of women diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer have been living with the disease for five years or longer.
The goal of treatment is to keep patients on their feet as long as possible so that they can continue to do what they want to do, says Gretchen Kimmick, MD, associate professor of medicine at the Duke Cancer Institute in Durham, North Carolina.
In recent years, treatment for breast cancer has vastly improved, largely because doctors are able to more accurately target therapy to the type of breast cancer a woman has. The discovery of the HER2 protein and medicines that block it has revolutionized treatment for women with cancers that overexpress this protein, Dr. Kimmick says. This cancer was pretty deadly two decades ago, and now we are starting to debate if weve cured it in some women.
Why Does Metastatic Breast Cancer Happen
Most often, metastatic cancer occurs because treatment didnt destroy all the cancer cells. Sometimes, a few cells remain dormant, or are hidden and undetectable. Then, for reasons providers dont fully understand, the cells begin to grow and spread again.
De novo metastatic breast cancer means that at the time of initial diagnosis, the breast cancer has already spread to other parts of the body. In the absence of treatment, the cancer spreads.
There is nothing you can do to keep breast cancer from metastasizing. And metastatic breast cancer doesnt happen because of something you did.
Living With Stage 4 Breast Cancer
Hi there. I am wondering if there’s anyone out there who, like me, is living with Stage 4 breast cancer?
It would be good to be in contact with other people who are living with this disease.
In July 2011 I was diagnosed with Invasive Ductal Carcinoma which was already widespread throughout both lungs and liver.
I would be interested to talk to anyone else who finds themselves in a similar position and who, despite the difficult prognosis, is determined to keep as fit as possible, access all medical treatment and eat well.
Looking forward to hearing from you,
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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.
Survival Rate With Metastatic Breast Cancer
Many people wonder about the life expectancy for stage 4 breast cancer . It’s important to note that everyone is different and survival rates vary widely. There are some people who survive many years and even decades with stage 4 disease. At the same time, it’s important to understand that stage 4 breast cancer isn’t curable.
It can be helpful to look at current statistics and consider the many variables that affect life expectancy. While it’s important not to raise false hope, it may help to know the reality that there are some long-term survivors.
Some people want to know the statistics, but many don’t. If you’re living with stage 4 breast cancer, there is absolutely no requirement that you know the prognosis. The information provided here is only for those who truly wish to know what the current research iseven this research has many limitations.
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How Does Cancer Cause Death
Every patient is different, and the way cancer causes death varies. The process can depend on the type of cancer, where it is in the body, and how fast its growing.
For some people, the cancer cant be controlled anymore and spreads to healthy tissues and organs. Cancer cells take up the needed space and nutrients that the healthy organs would use. As a result, the healthy organs can no longer function. For other people, complications from treatment can cause death.
During the final stages of cancer, problems may occur in several parts of the body.
In some cases, the exact cause cant be pinpointed and patients simply decline slowly, becoming weaker and weaker until they succumb to the cancer.
Again, every patient is different and all processes have different stages and rates in which they advance. And some conditions have treatments that can help slow the process or make the patient more comfortable. Its very important to keep having conversations with the patients health care team.
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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Is Stage 4 Cancer Always Terminal
More severe cancers are more likely to be terminal. However, that is never a certainty. For example, the American Cancer Society say the 5-year survival rate for breast cancer that spreads to distant body parts is 27%, or 86% when it only spreads locally.
Determining the severity of cancer and its stage is a complex process. Doctors are still learning about all the factors that affect how cancer develops and affects the body.
What Other Issues Should Caregivers Be Aware Of
Its just as important for caregivers to take care of their own health at this time. Family and caregivers are affected by their loved ones health more than they realize. Taking care of a sick person often causes physical and emotional fatigue, stress, depression, and anxiety. Because of this, its important for caregivers to take care of their own body, mind, and spirit. Helping themselves will give them more energy, help them cope with stress, and cause them to be better caregivers as a result.Its also helpful if caregivers ask for support from friends and family members. Such help is important to help lessen the many tasks involved in taking care of a loved one who is sick or dying.
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Why Breast Cancer Is Staged
Breast cancer stages are used to guide therapy, says Yolanda Bryce, MD, a radiologist at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. They help oncologists communicate about and help patients understand the type and severity of cancer they have, Henry says.
Different stages have different survival rates, but it’s important not to get too hung up on the statistics, because situations vary depending on the individual, Bryce says.
“There’s so much innovation and so much advancement in the field that clinical picture doesn’t necessarily look like the published numbers,” she says.
How quickly breast cancer progresses from one stage to the next varies widely. Some cancers can take a few months to progress, and others can take years, Bryce says.
Here’s a guide on the different stages of breast cancer and what each stage may mean for you.
Treatments For Stage 4 Breast Cancer
Treatments at stage four of breast cancer do not cure the disease but slow down its effects, make you feel better, and perhaps make stage 4 breast cancer life expectancy longer.
This is the main type of treatment provided to patients with stage four breast cancer. It is usually used in combination with hormone therapy and helps to reduce the spread of cancer. There are different ways of getting chemo. You can either take pills or liquids or it can be injected directly into your veins.
2. Hormone Therapy
This treatment can be really helpful for women who have hormone receptor-positive cancers. This basically means that the cancer needs hormones to grow. For such women, medications under this treatment can prevent the cancer from getting the hormones. There are a variety of drugs that are administered for women who are postmenopausal. For women who haven’t undergone menopause yet, removing their ovaries is an option to reduce the production of hormones.
3. Targeted Therapy
This is a relatively newer treatment. Among the women who are diagnosed with breast cancer, about 20% have been found to have too much of the protein known as HER2. This protein makes the cancer spread quickly. For such women, trastuzumab, also known as Herceptin, is prescribed to stop the protein from helping the cancer grow. This drug also boosts the immune system, allowing the body to fight the cancer on its own. This treatment is usually used in conjunction with chemotherapy.
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Advanced Cancer That Progresses During Treatment
Treatment for advanced breast cancer can often shrink the cancer or slow its growth , but after a time, it tends to stop working. Further treatment options at this point depend on several factors, including previous treatments, where the cancer is located, and a woman’s age, general health, and desire to continue getting treatment.
How A Breast Cancers Stage Is Determined
Your pathology report will include information that is used to calculate the stage of the breast cancer that is, whether it is limited to one area in the breast, or it has spread to healthy tissues inside the breast or to other parts of the body. Your doctor will begin to determine this during surgery to remove the cancer and look at one or more of the underarm lymph nodes, which is where breast cancer tends to travel first. He or she also may order additional blood tests or imaging tests if there is reason to believe the cancer might have spread beyond the breast.
The breast cancer staging system, called the TNM system, is overseen by the American Joint Committee on Cancer . The AJCC is a group of cancer experts who oversee how cancer is classified and communicated. This is to ensure that all doctors and treatment facilities are describing cancer in a uniform way so that the treatment results of all people can be compared and understood.
In the past, stage number was calculated based on just three clinical characteristics, T, N, and M:
- the size of the cancer tumor and whether or not it has grown into nearby tissue
- whether cancer is in the lymph nodes
- whether the cancer has spread to other parts of the body beyond the breast
Numbers or letters after T, N, and M give more details about each characteristic. Higher numbers mean the cancer is more advanced. Jump to more detailed information about the TNM system.
Jump to a specific breast cancer stage to learn more:
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Stage : Kim Green Has Lived With Metastatic Breast Cancer For Past 19 Years
Kim Green defies the odds for those living with incurable metastatic breast cancer. Her mother died of metastatic breast cancer at 37, but Green has been living with it for 19 years.
Green has endured more than 60 surgeries since she found a lump in her breast when she was 34 and six months pregnant. Doctors got clean margins after performing a lumpectomy. Shortly afterward she gave birth to her son, born prematurely. She began chemo treatments a week after his birth, followed by a bilateral mastectomy.
Yet, four months after treatment ended, she woke up one morning with a tumor on her neck the size of a golf ball.
When cancer spreads from its original source to another part of the body, its metastatic or stage 4 cancer. There is no cure for metastatic breast cancer, and the median life expectancy is 24 months. The number of metastatic breast cancer patients living longer and well with the disease keeps inching up, doctors say. But ultimately, people die from it.
People with stage 4 breast cancer live longer because of new and better drugs that prolong the time when people feel good. There have been 15 new drugs in the past 15 years, says Dr. Lajos Pusztai, director of Breast Cancer Translational Research at the Yale Cancer Center and professor of medicine at Yale School of Medicine.
Survival Rate By Stage
Breast cancer stage describes how far cancer has spread in your body. Different stages of breast cancer have different survival rates.
The SEER database does not use the American Joint Committee on Cancer TNM system for cancer stages that you may see on your pathology report. Instead, the SEER database uses stages known as localized, regional, and distant:
- Localized means there is no evidence that cancer has spread beyond the breast.
- Regional means that cancer was found in nearby lymph nodes or structures outside the breast.
- Distant means the cancer has traveled to remote parts of the body such as bones, liver, or lungs.
Here are the SEER relative 5-year breast cancer survival rates, from the American Cancer Society website:
*These rates are based on women who were diagnosed between 2009 and 2015.
Its important to know that the survival rate for your type of breast cancer may be different than whats represented in this chart. Here are some reasons why:
- The numbers in this chart represent women diagnosed and treated at least 5 years ago. As treatments improve, survival rate numbers can change.
- The numbers you see here do not factor in certain cancer characteristics such as grade, hormone-receptor status, or HER2 status.
- These numbers also dont consider how well a cancer treatment may be working in your body.
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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.
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.