Stage 4 Breast Cancer Survivor Stories
Following are stories from two survivors of breast cancer, told in their own narrative.
“I am Kathy from Littleton, Colorado. I had been a successful hairstylist till the March of 2013. I was used to the occasional back ache as I did most of my work standing up, but one day the backache was so bad I had to go to the hospital to get some relief. After getting an MRI, I received the news that I had stage four breast cancer that had metastasized in my bones. My stage 4 breast cancer life expectancy was only two months. When looking for treatment, I found the University of Colorado Anchutz Cancer Center. For a year I went through chemotherapy once a week, three biopsies and three rounds of radiation. After two years, I am still battling my cancer while living a healthy life. My doctors call this a miracle as I go to the gym five days a week, work for various cancer awareness organizations and recently started a new business.”
What Is The Chance I Could Die In The Next 5 Years
The average 5-year survival rate for all people with breast cancer is 89%. The 10-year rate is 83%, and the 15-year rate is 78%. If the cancer is located only in the breast , the 5-year survival rate is 99%. More than 70% of breast cancers are diagnosed at an Early Stage.
All survival statistics are primarily based on the stage of breast cancer when diagnosed. Some of the other important factors are also listed below that affect survival.
Stage 0 breast cancer can be also described as a pre-cancer. If you have DCIS you can be quite confident you will do well. DCIS does not spread to other organs. What can be concerning is when an invasive cancer grows back in the area of a prior lumpectomy for DCIS. This type of local recurrence does carry a risk to your life. Luckily, this does not happen frequently. Also, be aware that those who have had DCIS in the past are at a higher risk for developing an entirely new, invasive breast cancer. Take our video lesson on Non-Invasive DCIS to learn more.
Stage I invasive breast cancer has an excellent survival rate. The chance of dying of Stage I breast cancer within five years of diagnosis is 1 to 5% if you pursue recommended treatments.
Stage II breast cancer is also considered an early stage of breast cancer. There is a slightly increased risk to your life versus a Stage I breast cancer. Altogether, the risk of Stage II breast cancer threatening your life in the next 5 years is about 15%.
Relative Survival Rate By Stage
The survival rates by stage are based on the stage at the time of diagnosis. Youâve 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. Hereâs 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 âstage 4â). The 5-year relative survival rate is 28%.
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Stage 4 Breast Cancer
Advanced breast cancer refers to cancer that has spread beyond the breast to other parts of the body. This process of spreading from the original location to a new location is known as metastasis.
The most common places of breast cancer spread include the bones, liver, lung, and brain. However, breast cancer may also spread to other organs.
The majority of women who are diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer have been diagnosed with an earlier stage of breast cancer before. In this instance, the original cancer in the breast is called the primary cancer. However, for some women, a diagnosis of metastatic breast cancer may be their first diagnosis of cancer .
Factors Influencing Survival Rates
The variability in survival rates highlights one key reality about stage 4 lung cancer: no two people have the same disease. Arguably more than any other stage of the disease, stage 4 lung cancer survival is influenced by multiple factors. Some of these are fixed and others can be changed .
There are seven factors known to influence survival times in people with stage 4 NSCLC.
How Is Prognosis Estimated
Prognosis is estimated by looking at what has happened over many years to large groups of people diagnosed with a similar cancer. However, everyones situation is different so no one can say for certain what will happen to you. Also, treatments and survival rates are constantly improving, which affects the accuracy of estimates for people being treated today.
Prognosis is described in different ways. It may be put into words or numbers. Its often expressed as a five- or ten-year survival rate. This is an estimate of how many people are likely to be alive five or ten years following their diagnosis.
A 90% five-year survival rate means that 90 out of 100 people diagnosed with breast cancer are likely to be alive five years after their diagnosis. It doesnt mean these people will only live for five years it just states how many people are likely to be alive at that point.
Cancer Research UK has general statistics on five- and ten-year breast cancer survival rates on their website. Remember, these statistics are based on large groups of patients and cannot predict what will happen in your individual case.
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Thermal Ablation Or Cryoablation
Thermal ablation or cryoablation can be used alone or in combination with surgery. These procedures involve destroying cancer cells by either heating or freezing them. For example, radiofrequency ablation involves inserting a needle into individual tumours in the liver and destroying them with heat. RFA is a specialist treatment and not widely available. Your treatment team can tell you if it may be suitable for you.
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What Is Metastatic Breast Cancer
Metastasis is the process by which cancer cells spread. In the case of metastatic breast cancer, the cancer originated in breast tissue, then spread to other parts of the body.
Metastatic cancer is further described as local, regional or distant, depending on the location of the cancer cells in relation to the original tumor.
- Localized metastatic breast cancer often means the breast cancer has spread to nearby lymph nodes.
- The more distant locations include the bones, lungs, skin, liver and brain, although its possible for other parts of the body to be affected.
Its important to remember that every cancer is unique and that your experience may not necessarily be the same as that of another breast cancer patient. With a personalized treatment plan, metastatic breast cancer is typically treatable. A recent National Cancer Institute study found that the number of U.S. women living longer with distant metastatic breast cancer is growing, thanks to advances in treatments.
Its also important to prepare yourself with information about the disease, its symptoms and how its detected and treated.
This article will cover:
Mechanisms Of Breast Cancer Metastasis
No one really knows what factors will make a certain patient more or less susceptible to breast cancer metastasis.
There is growing awareness that part of that susceptibility is due to host factors. The host factors are the characteristics of the non-malignant cells and the general biological environment surrounding the malignant breast tumor.
Sometimes the host factors are referred to as the pre-metastatic niche and it is thought that bone-marrow-derived progenitor cells may directly influence the dissemination of malignant cells to distant areas.
Non-neoplastichost cells within the tumor may also play a key role in the regulation of breast cancer metastasis.
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Surviving Stage 4 Breast Cancer: Is It Possible
Understanding survival rates of stage 4 breast cancer
According to the National Cancer Institute , an estimated 27 percent of people in the United States live at least 5 years after being diagnosed with stage 4 breast cancer.
Many factors can affect your longevity and quality of life. Different subtypes of breast cancer behave differently. Some are more aggressive than others, and some have far fewer treatment options than others. For this reason, your subtype may affect your outlook.
Higher survival rates are also associated with the extent and location of metastasis. In other words, your long-term outlook may be better if your cancer has only spread to your bones than if its found in your bones and lungs.
Immediately seeking treatment, like chemotherapy, surgery, or hormone therapy, can help improve your outlook. Making healthy lifestyle choices might also improve your chances of survival.
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.
Anticipating The End Of Life
In This Section
For more information, see the Symptoms During the Final Months, Weeks, and Days of Life section.
Encouraging family members who desire to do something to participate in the care of the patient may be helpful. In the final days to hours of life, patients often have limited, transitory moments of lucidity. Family members should be prepared for this and educated that this is a natural aspect of the dying process and not necessarily a result of medications being administered for symptoms or a sign that the patient is doing better than predicted. Despite their limited ability to interact, patients may be aware of the presence of others thus, loved ones can be encouraged to speak to the patient as if he or she can hear them.
For patients who die in the hospital, clinicians need to be prepared to inquire about the familys desire for an autopsy, offering reassurance that the body will be treated with respect and that open-casket services are still possible, if desired.
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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Living With Metastatic Breast Cancer
An advanced breast cancer diagnosis often elicits a flood of emotions: fear, confusion, sadness, anger and worry. You may wonder, Why me? You may think its unfair that this has happened to you. All of these emotions and feelings are normal, so take the time to process your thoughts, speak with your care team to understand your diagnosis, and connect with loved ones and close friends for support.
Over time, as the shock wears off, many patients find that they get on with their lives, adjusting to what some call their new normal. You may continue to work, enjoy life and spend time with family and friends, even if sometimes you have less energy than before.
Try to eat a nutritious diet to feel stronger and better tolerate treatments. Maintaining good nutrition may also help lower your risk of infection and provide you with more energy for enjoying life.
Light exercise may give your mind and body’s boost, helping you feel energized, especially if you spend time in the fresh air. Always seek medical advice before making any changes to your diet or exercise routines.
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.
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Integrative Therapies For Metastatic Breast Cancer
You may find it beneficial to add integrative therapies to your treatment plan. There are many evidence-informed integrative modalities to boost the mind and body. Practices like gentle yoga, meditation, massage and music therapy may feel enjoyable and reduce stress and anxiety levels.
To help our patients maintain quality of life after a metastatic breast cancer diagnosis, our team of breast cancer experts may offer supportive care services to help manage side effects of the disease and its treatments. These may include:
Before starting any integrative therapies, however, ask your care team for advice on which ones are most suited to you and fit into your overall treatment plan, as well as how to do them safely.
Emotional And Spiritual Care
End-of-life care also includes emotional, mental, and spiritual therapy. A personâs healthcare team may include social workers, counselors, mental health professionals, and religious or spiritual advisors.
According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, up to 40 percent of people with cancer experience serious mental distress. This may include anxiety, depression, panic attacks, and post-traumatic stress disorder .
Medications, therapy, religious or spiritual rituals, and support groups can help a person cope with mental health issues and stress during this difficult time.
Caregivers may also need help with stress, anxiety, and depression. The palliative care team can usually also provide support and advice to caregivers for their emotional needs.
The Breast Cancer Healthline app provides people with access to an online breast cancer community, where users can connect with others and gain advice and support through group discussions.
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Clinical Trials Are A Promising Treatment Option
For people with advanced stages of cancer, clinical trials can be considered the gold standard of treatment. I recommend clinical trials highly, says Rosen. You get access to medication and treatment that you normally wouldnt have.
A clinical trial could even have positive results on your cancer. We are living in an exciting time for cancer treatment, says Kimmick. There are myriad new drugs coming out that will improve the lives of all women with breast cancer, both metastatic and early stage.
However, its important to be realistic about the potential outcome of your trial. Rosen was recently enrolled in a clinical trial in which the medication proved toxic for her. But she has no regrets about participating. It feels like Im helping researchers who are working on cures for cancer, she says. When I had a bad reaction to the drug, they were able to put my side effects in their study. I feel like I did help, and that makes me happy.
People interested in joining a clinical trial for treatment should talk to their doctor about options that might be good for them.
Recurrence Of Metastatic Breast Cancer
Metastatic breast cancer is considered a chronic disease, so it doesnt go away and recur.
But in recent years, people under age 50 have seen a particularly strong decline in death rates due to breast cancer, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention .
These declines are due in part to improved screening and treatment for the disease.
There are a few general facts that are helpful to know about breast cancer outlook:
- Breast cancer is the most common cancer diagnosis in the United States, according to the
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