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Is Stage 4 Breast Cancer Fatal

These Are The Complications That Are Most Likely To Be Fatal For Someone With Cancer

Shannen Doherty says she is battling stage 4 breast cancer

Cancer can interfere with the function of your all-important digestive system, which comprises organs like your stomach, pancreas, and intestines. Tumors can clog up this system, creating obstacles that dont allow food or food waste to get through, the NCI explains. That, in turn, can cause issues such as frequent nausea and vomiting. But cancer-related digestive issues are most likely to become life-threatening due to malnourishment or dehydration.

The body stops being able to use nutrients properly, Martin J. Edelman, M.D., deputy cancer center director for clinical research at Fox Chase Cancer Center, tells SELF. This means that even if someone is receiving nutrients via IV, they can still die from malnourishment.

Malnourishment can be accompanied by difficulty maintaining fluid levels. Dehydration is almost universally a side effect of advanced cancer, Ishwaria Subbiah, M.D., assistant professor in the department of palliative care and rehabilitation medicine at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, tells SELF.

While doctors can give a patient with advanced cancer IV fluids, at a certain point, its difficult for the body to hold onto these necessary liquids. The fluids dont stay where theyre intended to stay, and will seep from the blood vessels into surrounding tissue, Dr. Subbiah says. This can lead to dehydration.

When Can Metastatic Breast Cancer Occur

Most often, metastatic breast cancer arises months or years after a person has completed treatment for early or locally advanced breast cancer. This is sometimes called a distant recurrence.

Some people have metastatic breast cancer when they are first diagnosed . This is called de novo metastatic breast cancer.

Komen Perspectives

What Exactly Is Stage 4 Breast Cancer

In the simplest terms, a stage 4 breast cancer diagnosiswhich is often referred to as metastatic breast cancer or terminal breast canceris the disease in its most serious and life-threatening form, according to the American Cancer Society .

Stage 4 breast cancer refers to the spread of breast cancer beyond the area of the breast and surrounding lymph nodes,Debu Tripathy, MD, professor and chairman of the Department of Breast Medical Oncology, at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, tells Health. The more common sites of spread include the bone, lung, liver and brain. It’s important to note, however, that when breast cancer spreads to another area of the body, like the bones or lungs, it does not become bone or lung cancerit’s still breast cancer, according to the National Cancer Institute .

Stage 4 breast cancer is an uncommon initial diagnosistechnically called de novo metastatic breast cancer, it’s only found in 6 percent of all breast cancer diagnoses. Instead, metastatic breast cancer often emerges months or years after someone has already completed treatment for an initial breast cancer diagnosis in an earlier stage.

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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.

How Can I Take Care Of Myself While Living With Metastatic Breast Cancer

Very early stage breast cancer ups risk for invasive ...

Living with metastatic breast cancer can be challenging. Your care team can help provide physical and emotional support. Talk to them about how you can:

  • Eat the most nutritious diet for your needs.
  • Exercise regularly.
  • Get emotional support, including finding support groups.
  • Reach out for help from friends, family and loved ones.
  • Find mental health services.
  • Find complementary therapies.

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Is Breast Cancer Fatal

Breast cancer is diagnosed early is curable. However, people are ignorant, both urban and rural, about the symptoms of breast cancer. Breast cancer usually presents as a painless lump in the breast above the age of 35 years. It may also present as a blood-tinged nipple discharge. Painful and heavy breasts before periods is a sign of mastalgia of the breast, which is a non-cancerous condition. It is therefore important to understand that a painless lump in the breast in a lady above 35 years should be investigated to rule out breast cancer.

Also Read: Lumps In The Breast Or Underarm? This Could Be An Early Warning Symptom Of Breast Cancer

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.

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Central Nervous System Metastases

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Clinically symptomatic CNS metastases are reported in 10â15% of patients with metastatic breast cancer in large autopsy studies, up to 40% of women who died of metastatic breast cancer were reported to have at least one brain metastasis. CNS metastases are often viewed by patients and doctors as a late complication of metastatic breast cancer for which few effective treatments exist. In most cases, CNS involvement occurs after metastatic dissemination to the bones, liver and/or lungs has already occurred for that reason, many patients already have refractory, terminal breast cancer by the time they are diagnosed with brain metastases. The diagnosis of brain metastases from breast cancer relies mainly on patient-reported symptoms and neuroimaging. The role of imaging in patients with suspected brain metastases is a very good modality to aid in diagnosis. According to Weil et al., 2005, neuroimaging such as Computed Tomography and Magnetic Resonance Imaging prove to be very effective in the diagnosis of brain and central nervous system metastases.

Symptoms of brain metastases from breast cancer are:

  • new-onset headache
  • cranial neuropathy, which may cause diplopia and Bell’s palsy
  • vomiting and nausea
  • deficits in sensation, motor function, and speech

What Is Advanced Stage Iv Breast Cancer

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Stage IV is the most invasive of all stages of breast cancer. At this stage, the cancer has spread beyond the breast and nearby lymph nodes to other organs of the body such as the lungs, distant lymph nodes, skin, bones, liver or brain.

“Stage IV is often called advanced or metastatic breast cancer, it’s definitely scary for most patients. It’s widespread but varies per person,” Cruz said. “But I’ve had patients come up to me crying, thinking they’re going to die tomorrow but they live dozens of more years.”

Cance and Cruz said stage IV can appear after a different stage of breast cancer was treated. In most stage IV cases, doctors take an aggressive form of treatment involving surgery, chemotherapy and more.

How can you treat breast cancer?

Treatment for breast cancer can vary depending on the stage, Cruz said, though most treatments involve some form of radiation or hormone therapy to shrink the cancer cells.

Cruz said some women opt to take a “drastic” preventative measure via a mastectomy. A mastectomy is surgery to remove the breast tissue, often where cancer cells are found or could later be found.

“At first, the cancer will be biopsied and depending on the tumor characteristics, the treatment plan will involve surgery and possible chemotherapy or hormonal therapy and radiation,” Cance said.

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Is Stage 3 Breast Cancer Curable

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Can Stage 4 Breast Cancer Go Into Remission

Stage 4 breast cancer can go into remission, meaning that it isnt detected in imaging or other tests. Pathological complete remission indicates a lack of cancer cells in tissues removed after surgery or biopsy.

But its rare to take tissue samples while treating stage 4 breast cancer. This could mean that although treatment has been effective, it hasnt completely destroyed the cancer.

Advances in stage 4 breast cancer treatments are helping to increase the length of remission.

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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.

Stage 3C:

Metastatic Breast Cancer Is Terminal

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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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Myth #: If Youre Diagnosed With Metastatic Breast Cancer You Did Something Wrong Or Didnt Get The Right Treatment The First Time

When some people hear stage IV breast cancer, they assume something must have been missed along the way to let the cancer get that far. There is a misconception that breast cancer always develops in orderly steps from stages I to II, III, and then IV and that theres plenty of time to catch it early. People with MBC can face misguided assumptions that they must have skipped mammograms or self-exams, or they didnt control risk factors such as not exercising enough, watching their weight, or eating healthy. But a person can do everything right and still get MBC. Although regular screenings increase the odds of diagnosing breast cancer at an earlier stage, they cant guarantee it.

Another major misconception: If youre diagnosed with metastatic cancer after being treated for an early-stage breast cancer, you must have chosen the wrong treatment regimen or it wasnt aggressive enough. But between 20% and 30% of people with an earlier-stage breast cancer will eventually go on to develop MBC and theres often no good explanation as to why. And it can happen to anyone. Treatments can reduce the risk of recurrence, but they cant eliminate it.

As Illimae of Houston notes: that a stage IV diagnosis equals negligence on the part of the patient. In my case, it had spread before I ever felt a lump. I felt it Saturday and saw my doc on Monday, I ignored nothing, sometimes it just happens that fast.

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.

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Metastatic Breast Cancer Is An Ongoing Struggle

A lot of people dont realize that treatment for stage 4 breast cancer never ends. I often get asked how many rounds of chemotherapy or infusions I have left, but the truth is theres no endpoint, says Uzma Yunus, a psychiatrist who has stage 4 breast cancer thats spread to her liver and skull. I will be on a medication until it stops working, and then Ill look for the next agent that might help.

Women with late-stage breast cancer also check in with their doctors for frequent scans, sometimes as often as every three months, to make sure the disease hasnt spread anywhere else in the body.

Stephanie McCord, 40, whose stage 1 breast cancer came back as MBC two years ago when it spread to her lungs, liver, bones, and stomach, echoed Yunuss remark: My breast cancer is never going away, McCord says. Stage 4 is a war, every day.

Where Do These Numbers Come From

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The American Cancer Society relies on information from the SEER* database, maintained by the National Cancer Institute , to provide survival statistics for different types of cancer.

The SEER database tracks 5-year relative survival rates for breast cancer in the United States, based on how far the cancer has spread. The SEER database, however, does not group cancers by AJCC TNM stages . Instead, it groups cancers into localized, regional, and distant stages:

  • Localized: There is no sign that the cancer has spread outside of the breast.
  • Regional: The cancer has spread outside the breast to nearby structures or lymph nodes.
  • Distant: The cancer has spread to distant parts of the body such as the lungs, liver or bones.

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Symptoms Of Metastatic Cancer

Metastatic cancer does not always cause symptoms. When symptoms do occur, what they are like and how often you have them will depend on the size and location of the metastatic tumors. Some common signs of metastatic cancer include:

  • pain and fractures, when cancer has spread to the bone
  • headache, seizures, or dizziness, when cancer has spread to the brain
  • shortness of breath, when cancer has spread to the lung
  • jaundice or swelling in the belly, when cancer has spread to the liver

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%.

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