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.
Stages Of Breast Cancer
If you are diagnosed with breast cancer, doctors and pathologists will examine biopsy and imaging results to determine the stage also known as the progression of the disease. The process is complicated but necessary to determine the best treatment plan for your particular type of cancer. The most common staging system is the TNM , which focuses on tumor size, lymph node involvement and metastatic spread of the cancer. It also factors in details related to hormone receptors, the protein HER2 and growth rate of the cells.
In the simplest terms the full staging system has numerous substages Stage 0 involves potentially abnormal cells, but a tumor hasnt been located. At Stage I, a detected tumor is smaller than 2 centimeters and may have spread cancer cells to the lymph nodes. Stage II could have a tumor size up to 5 centimeters, and cancer has begun to spread to the lymph nodes. Stage III is the first stage considered to be advanced breast cancer, with the cancer possibly spreading to other parts of the chest and the lymph nodes. The primary tumor is more than 5 centimeters at this point.
How Can My Symptoms Be Relieved
It is very unlikely that you will have all of these symptoms or even most of them. If you have any symptoms that are troubling you, let your doctor or nurse know. Sometimes radiotherapy and chemotherapy can be used to help symptoms. But there other things that can help. Read more about coping with side effects and symptoms.
Recommended Reading: Breast Cancer Medications After Surgery
What Are The Signs Of Metastatic Breast Cancer
Metastatic breast cancer is stage IV cancer, which has spread to other parts of the body. Cancers are a group of diseases in which some types of cells turn abnormal and proliferate without control. Cancer can start anywhere and spread to any part of the body, but is named by the organ in which it first develops. Men can also develop breast cancer, although it is rare.
If breast cancer spreads to the bone, it is still considered metastatic breast cancer that has spread to the bone it is not considered to be bone cancer. In metastatic breast cancer, breast cancer cells break from the primary tumor, travel through blood or lymph fluid, settle into other parts of the body and start growing into new metastatic breast tumors.
Myth #: Metastatic Breast Cancer Is Curable
Whether metastatic breast cancer is someones first diagnosis or a recurrence after treatment for earlier-stage breast cancer, it cant be cured. However, treatments can keep it under control, often for months at a time. People with MBC report fielding questions from family and friends such as, When will you finish your treatments? or Wont you be glad when youre done with all of this? The reality is they will be in treatment for the rest of their lives.
A typical pattern is to take a treatment regimen as long as it keeps the cancer under control and the side effects are tolerable. If it stops working, a patient can switch to another option. There may be periods of time when the cancer is well-controlled and a person can take a break. But people with MBC need to be in treatment for the rest of their lives.
As Breastcancer.org Community member Vlnprh of Wisconsin comments: The vast majority of people have no idea what MBC treatment involves. They somehow think that you will undergo something similar to early-stage patients surgery, radiation, chemo, whatever and then be done. They want to see you as a pink-tutu-wearing cheerleader jumping up and down declaring that you have beaten this disease
Amarantha of France writes: The one I get over and over is, How long will you be on this chemo? I mean doesn’t it end sometime? Yes, it ends when it stops working and then we go on to another treatment lather, rinse, repeat I guess until we run out of options.
Read Also: Invasive Ductal Carcinoma Mammogram Images
Survival Rates Of Stage 4 Breast Cancer
Unfortunately, cancer cells often become more difficult to treat and may develop drug resistance once they spread. According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare , the 5-year survival rate for women whose breast cancer is metastatic at first diagnosis is 32%, compared to the 91% on average for all breast cancer patients.
Factors affecting survival rate of metastatic breast cancer
Survival rates can provide an estimate of what percentage of patients with the same stage of breast cancer are still alive after a certain period of time . However, they cannot predict how long any specific individual with breast cancer will live. The length of survival time for people with metastatic breast cancer can vary significantly from person to person, but there are a number of factors which can influence this including:
- Response to treatment
- The extent and location of metastases
- The presence of other health issues not related to cancer
- The specific subtype of breast cancer . This is very important, as some types of cancer can be more aggressive than others and respond differently to treatment.
Myth #: Metastatic Breast Cancer Requires More Aggressive Treatment Than Earlier
Related to myth #3 is the notion that because MBC is advanced cancer, doctors have to pull out all the stops to fight it. But thats actually not the case, says Breastcancer.org professional advisory board member Sameer Gupta, M.D., a medical oncologist at Bryn Mawr Hospital in Bryn Mawr, Pa., and a clinical assistant professor of medicine at Jefferson Medical College in Philadelphia. The goal is control rather than cure. Think of it as a marathon vs. a 50-yard dash.
Doctors treat earlier-stage breast cancer more aggressively because the goal is to cure it: destroy all of the cancer cells and leave none behind, reducing the risk of recurrence as much as possible. With MBC, the goal is control so that patients can live well for as long as possible. And chemotherapy isnt necessarily the mainstay of treatment.
DivineMrsM of Ohio shares her experience: eople in general think we should be hooked up to a chemo IV and looking sickly. When I told one woman I took a daily anti-estrogen pill to combat MBC, she looked at me with pity and sadness like I had no clue what I was talking about. Or that I was making up that I had advanced breast cancer, perhaps as a sympathy ploy or for attention. She even asked, Aren’t you on chemo? And I worked with this woman for a number of years, she was not a stranger!
Read Also: Breast Cancer Stage 3
Myth #: When Breast Cancer Travels To The Bone Brain Or Lungs It Then Becomes Bone Cancer Brain Cancer Or Lung Cancer
Not true. Breast cancer is still breast cancer, wherever it travels in the body. However, the characteristics of the cells can change over time. For example, a breast cancer that tested negative for hormone receptors or an abnormal HER2 gene might test positive when it moves to another part of the body, or vice versa . Keep in mind that the cancer cells are trying to survive in the body, so they can change, says Dr. Gupta. We always emphasize rechecking the biology.
Symptoms If Cancer Has Spread To The Bones
You may have any of these symptoms if your cancer has spread to the bones:
- an ache or pain in the affected bone
- breaks in the bones because they are weaker
- breathlessness, looking pale, bruising and bleeding due to low levels of blood cells – blood cells are made in the bone marrow and can be crowded out by the cancer cells
Sometimes when bones are damaged by advanced cancer, the bones release calcium into the blood. This is called hypercalcaemia and can cause various symptoms such as:
Don’t Miss: End Stage Breast Cancer Life Expectancy
Metastatic Breast Cancer Symptoms
Metastatic breast cancer symptoms depend on the part of the body to which the cancer has spread and its stage. Sometimes, metastatic disease may not cause any symptoms.
- If the breast or chest wall is affected, symptoms may include pain, nipple discharge, or a lump or thickening in the breast or underarm.
- If the bones are affected, symptoms may include pain, fractures, constipation or decreased alertness due to high calcium levels.
- If tumors form in the lungs, symptoms may include shortness of breath or difficulty breathing, coughing, chest wall pain or extreme fatigue.
- If the liver is affected, symptoms may include nausea, extreme fatigue, increased abdominal girth, swelling of the feet and hands due to fluid collection and yellowing or itchy skin.
- If breast cancer spreads to the brain or spinal cord and forms tumors, symptoms may include pain, confusion, memory loss, headache, blurred or double vision, difficulty with speech, difficulty with movement or seizures.
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 To Do If You Spot Symptoms
Anyone who notices a change in their breast that develops without a clear cause should see a doctor, especially if the changes affect only one breast. In many cases, routine screening will reveal any significant changes.
Breast cancer is highly treatable if diagnosis occurs in the early stages. Regular screening can help with this.
As of April 2019, the ACP make for screening for women with an average risk of breast cancer and other guidelines for those with a higher risk.
For those with an average risk:
Women ages 40â49 should ask their doctor about whether they should start having a routine mammogram.
Women aged 50â74 who have an average risk should have a mammogram every 2 years.
Women with an average risk should stop screening when they reach 75 years of age, or if they expect to live another 10 years or fewer.
Women of all ages with an average risk should not undergo clinical breast examination to screen for breast cancer.
Other organizations, such as the American Cancer Society, make different recommendations. Each person should ask their doctor for advice on the best strategy for them.
It is helpful for people to be aware of how their breasts feel so that they can get used to any regular changes that occur. If they notice anything unusual, they should see their doctor.
At their visit, the doctor may use one of the following methods:
Common symptoms of breast cancer include:
Fast Five Quiz: Metastatic Breast Cancer Signs And Symptoms
Elwyn C. Cabebe, MD Winston W. Tan, MD, FACP
Worldwide, breast cancer is the most frequently diagnosed life-threatening cancer in women and the leading cause of cancer death among women. Only about 6% of patients with breast cancer are diagnosed with metastatic spread at presentation, but nearly 30% of patients will develop metastases after diagnosis and primary tumor treatment. The NCCN guidelines recommend biopsy at diagnosis of stage IV metastatic disease or with recurrence of metastatic disease to confirm diagnosis and tumor histology as well as to identify biomarkers that inform treatment decisions. Early breast cancers may be asymptomatic, and pain and discomfort are typically not present. The symptoms of metastatic breast cancer vary depending on the location of the cancer.
Are you able to correctly identify signs and symptoms associated with breast cancer metastasis? Make sure you’re prepared by taking this short quiz.
Any views expressed above are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the views of WebMD or Medscape.
Cite this: Elwyn C. Cabebe, Winston W. Tan. Fast Five Quiz: Metastatic Breast Cancer Signs and Symptoms – Medscape – Dec 15, 2021.
Don’t Miss: Chemo Alternatives Breast Cancer
What Are The Symptoms Of Metastatic Breast Cancer
Possible symptoms of metastatic breast cancer are listed below. Every womans experience of metastatic breast cancer is different. Symptoms depend on what part of the body is affected. They may develop over weeks or months.Its unlikely that a woman will have all of the symptoms listed below. Some symptoms may not be due to metastatic breast cancer at all.
Things Early Stage Breast Cancer Patients Should Know About Metastatic Breast Cancer Warning Signs
Susan G. Komen recently talked with Teri Pollastro, who has been living with metastatic breast cancer since 2003. Pollastro, a Susan G. Komen Advocate in Science, shares her experience going through early stage breast cancer, having a recurrence, and what developments shes the most excited about in breast cancer care.
Liquid biopsy: a blood test the looks for cancer cells or pieces of DNA from cancer cells that are circulating in the blood.
Komen: We talk a lot about the warning signs of breast cancer and the importance of knowing what is normal. Did you notice any signs of a recurrence or metastasis?
Pollastro: I was a young mom with small children and I just totally dismissed that I was losing weight. At the end of the day, I remember thinking, Gosh, did I eat today? I love to eat, so that should have been a cause for some concern for me.
I had more fatigue than was probably normal. Again, I just attributed it to my having young children. My breast cancer metastasized to my liver, and by the time I would have had glaring symptoms, it may have been too late for my liver to metabolize the chemotherapy.
Komen: Do you have any advice for early stage breast cancer patients about the warning signs of metastatic breast cancer?
Komen: Is there anything on the horizon in breast cancer care that makes you excited?
Komen: How could a liquid biopsy improve your quality of life?
Also Check: Breast Cancer In Lymph Nodes Prognosis
Don’t Miss: How Fast Do Breast Tumors Grow
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
The Breast Cancer Centers At Ctca
At the Breast Cancer Centers at each of our CTCA® hospitals, located across the nation, our cancer experts are devoted to a single missiontreating breast cancer patients with compassion and precision. Each patients care team is led by a medical oncologist and coordinated by a registered oncology nurse, who helps track the various appointments, follow up on tests and answer questions that come up along the way. Your care team also may include a breast surgeon, radiation oncologist, radiologist, pathologist and a plastic and reconstructive surgeon with advanced training in helping patients restore function and appearance. Fertility preservation and genetic testing are also available for qualifying patients who need them.
Our pathologists and oncologists are experienced and trained in tools designed to diagnose, stage and treat different types of breast cancer, from early-stage ductal carcinoma in situ to complex diseases such as triple-negative and inflammatory breast cancer. As part of our patient-centered care model, which is designed to help you keep strong during treatment, your multidisciplinary care team may recommend various evidence-informed supportive therapies, such as naturopathic support, psychosocial support, nutritional support, physical and occupational therapy and pain management. The entire team works together with a whole-person focus, which is at the heart of our centers dedication to personalized and comprehensive care.
Don’t Miss: Symptoms Of Recurring Breast Cancer
What Are The Signs That Breast Cancer Has Spread
Metastatic breast cancer is a secondary cancer the cancerous cells originate in breast tissue and then travel to other parts of the body. The most common areas of breast cancer metastasis are the bones, lungs and liver.
Following an initial breast cancer diagnosis, a patient will receive a personalized monitoring plan for metastatic reoccurrence from their care team. Depending on the specific parts of the body affected, the symptoms of metastatic breast cancer can vary.
Also Check: Who Is Considered High Risk For Breast Cancer