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.
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.
How Will Hospice Help
Many people are amazed at the help available when hospice is instituted. In addition to care from the team, hospice most often provides a hospital bed, oxygen, and any equipment or medications needed. This can save a lot of running around for your family and make you as comfortable as possible.
Many people want to spend their last days at home, surrounded by loved ones. With hospice care, the police do not need to be called, as they typically do with any “unattended death.” Your family can spend time with you until they wish to call the funeral home.
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Symptoms If Cancer Has Spread To The Lymph Nodes
Lymph nodes are part of a system of tubes and glands in the body that filters body fluids and fights infection.
The most common symptom if cancer has spread to the lymph nodes is that they feel hard or swollen. You might have any of the following symptoms if your cancer has spread to the lymph nodes:
- a lump or swelling under your armpit
- swelling in your arm or hand
- a lump or swelling in your breast bone or collar bone area
One of the first places breast cancer can spread to is the lymph nodes under the arm on the same side as the breast cancer. This is not a secondary cancer.
How Does Cancer Spread Or Metastasize
The spread of cancer usually happens through one or more of the following steps:
- Cancer cells invade nearby healthy cells. When the healthy cell is taken over, it too can replicate more abnormal cells.
- Cancer cells penetrate into the circulatory or lymph system. Cancer cells travel through the walls of nearby lymph vessels or blood vessels.
- Migration through circulation. Cancer cells are carried by the lymph system and the bloodstream to other parts of the body.
- Cancer cells lodge in capillaries. Cancer cells stop moving as they are lodged in capillaries at a distant location and divide and migrate into the surrounding tissue.
- New small tumors grow. Cancer cells form small tumors at the new location
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Tests To Diagnose Metastatic Breast Cancer
If you have any of the symptoms of metastatic breast cancer, your doctor may recommend one or more of the following tests:
- blood tests
- whole-body bone scan, with or without X-rays of specific bones
- MRI of the spine or brain
- CT scan of the chest, abdomen, pelvis, and/or brain
- PET scan
- X-ray or ultrasound of the abdomen or chest
- bronchoscopy if you have a constant cough or trouble breathing
- biopsy of any suspicious area
- a “tap,” removal of fluid from the area with symptoms to check for cancer cells a pleural tap removes fluid between the lung and chest wall and a spinal tap removes fluid from around the spinal cord
You can read the following pages for information on symptoms of breast cancer metastasis and diagnosis:
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
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How Is Metastatic Breast Cancer Treated
The main treatment for metastatic breast cancer is systemic therapy. These therapies treat the entire body. Systemic treatments may include a combination of:
Your care team will plan your treatment based on:
- Body parts cancer has reached.
- Past breast cancer treatments.
- Tumor biology, or how the cancer cells look and behave.
Common Signs Of Breast Cancer Metastasis
Metastatic breast cancer is breast cancer that has spread from the breast area to other organs in the body, including the bones, lungs, liver or brain. Even though the cancer extends to different parts of the body, the cancer is still treated as breast cancer because the cancer cells originated in the breast region. Known as Stage 4 breast cancer, metastatic breast cancer is the most advanced form of breast cancer and does not represent a specific type. According to the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation, it is approximated that more than 154,000 women in the United States have metastatic breast cancer.
No woman wants to hear that she has breast cancer, so its important to be aware of the warning signs that can indicate metastatic breast cancer. Its also important to receive routine mammograms and breast screenings, so your doctor can monitor your breast health. The symptoms for metastatic breast cancer can vary depending on where the cancer has spread, and on the individual. Many people may experience no apparent warning signs of metastatic cancer.
If you notice any of these warning signs, contact your doctor at Regional Cancer Care Associates immediately for an examination.
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Whats The Outlook For Metastatic Breast Cancer
The right treatment plan can improve survival for people with metastatic breast cancer. However, survival rates vary and are dependent on a number of factors including type/biology of the breast cancer, parts of the body involved and individual characteristics. About 1 in 3 women live at least five years after diagnosis. Some live 10 years or longer. Your care team will discuss your prognosis with you in more detail.
What Is Hospice Care
Hospice care is a type of palliative care, and like palliative care it is more of a philosophy than a place. Many people receive hospice care in their own home, though hospice facilities may be available as well. A typical hospice team includes a physician who specializes in end of life care, hospice nurses, social workers, and chaplains. Its care that seeks to maintain the comfort and dignity of a person and his or her family for as long as he or she lives, while no longer attempting to cure or slow the progress of a serious or terminal disease.
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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:
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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What Are The Early Signs Of Metastatic Breast Cancer
Metastatic breast cancer is an advanced form of breast cancer that has spread to another part of the body, usually the bones, brain, lungs or liver. When a cancer like this spread, it is still made up of cells from the original cancer site. For example, breast cancer that has spread to the lungs is still made up of breast cancer cells as opposed to lung cancer cells. Metastatic cancer occurs because cancer cells can travel through the body through the bloodstream or the lymph system, which is a channel of nodes and vessels that work to remove bacteria, viruses and cell waste.
It is a common misconception that developing metastatic breast cancer means you are out of options. However, there are many types of ongoing treatment options that can keep this type of cancer under control, and many people continue to live productive lives with breast cancer. Treatment choices can depend on a persons age, overall health and other medical conditions. The risk associated with metastatic cancer varies according to each person and their body, but it can be helpful to be aware of the early warning signs as you navigate your breast cancer diagnosis.
However, if you experience new symptoms, you should always talk to your doctor. Its great to remember the 3 Ps when managing symptoms:
Again, most people will not develop metastatic breast cancer, but its always important to manage your overall health and speak to your doctor if you feel anything out of the ordinary.
Inflammatory Breast Cancer Symptoms
Unlike other breast cancers, inflammatory breast cancer rarely causes breast lumps and may not appear on a mammogram. Inflammatory breast cancer symptoms include:
- Red, swollen, itchy breast that is tender to the touch
- The surface of the breast may take on a ridged or pitted appearance, similar to an orange peel
- Heaviness, burning, or aching in one breast
- One breast is visibly larger than the other
- Inverted nipple
- No mass is felt with a breast self-exam
- Swollen lymph nodes under the arm and/or above the collarbone
- Symptoms unresolved after a course of antibiotics
Unlike other breast cancers, inflammatory breast cancer usually does not cause a distinct lump in the breast. Therefore, a breast self-exam, clinical breast exam, or even a mammogram may not detect inflammatory breast cancer. Ultrasounds may also miss inflammatory breast cancer. However, the changes to the surface of the breast caused by inflammatory breast cancer can be seen with the naked eye.
Symptoms of inflammatory breast cancer can develop rapidly, and the disease can progress quickly. Any sudden changes in the texture or appearance of the breast should be reported to your doctor immediately.
For women who are pregnant or breast-feeding, redness, swelling, itchiness and soreness are often signs of a breast infection such as mastitis, which is treatable with antibiotics. If you are not pregnant or nursing and you develop these symptoms, your doctor should test for inflammatory breast cancer.
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Other Symptoms And Signs Of Metastasis
Loss of appetite
If you are concerned about any changes you experience, please talk with your doctor. Your doctor will ask how long and how often you have been experiencing the symptom, in addition to other questions. This is to help figure out the cause of the problem, called a diagnosis.
If the doctor diagnoses metastatic breast cancer, relieving symptoms remains an important part of care and treatment. This may be called palliative care or supportive care. It is often started soon after diagnosis and continued throughout treatment. Be sure to talk with your health care team about the symptoms you experience, including any new symptoms or a change in symptoms.
The next section in this guide is Diagnosis. It explains what tests may be needed to learn more about the cause of the symptoms. Use the menu to choose a different section to read in this guide.
What Are The Systemic Symptoms Of Metastatic Breast Cancer
As with any cancer that has progressed throughout the body, there are some systemic, or full-body symptoms of metastatic breast cancer. However, because these symptoms also overlap with symptoms of many other health conditions, it’s best to consult with your doctor before jumping to any conclusions to ensure you get proper treatment.
In the case of metastatic breast cancer, these systemic symptoms are a result of your cancer cells starving your body of nutrients. “When you have metastatic disease, the body is really competing with the cancer for survival, nutrition, and energy,”Evelyn Toyin Taiwo, MD, hematologist and oncologist at Weill Cornell Medicine and NewYork-Presbyterian Brooklyn Methodist Hospital, tells Health.“The body has to work a little bit harder than it normally does [to function.” Here are some of the more common full-body symptoms of metastatic breast cancer:
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Will I Need More Than One Treatment For Metastatic Breast Cancer
Medications are important for metastatic breast cancer to help control its spread. Resistance to therapies may develop, which can lead your care team to recommend a change in treatment.
When you start a treatment regimen, you and your care team will see how:
- The cancer responds to the therapy.
- The side effects impact you.
If the treatment isnt working or the side effects are unbearable, your care team can discuss switching the treatment method. They may recommend a different drug, dosage or schedule.
There are many treatments available. If one therapy isnt working for you for whatever reason, there is usually another one you can try.
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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Genetic Testing And Metastatic Breast Cancer Video
If youve been diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer, it can be helpful to find out whether or not you have a hereditary genetic mutation. Testing positive for certain genetic mutations can affect your treatment choices. In some cases, testing positive for a genetic mutation could mean that youre eligible for a clinical trial that can provide a potential treatment option.
In the video Genetic Testing and Metastatic Breast Cancer, you can learn how genetic counseling and genetic testing might benefit you.
Our featured guests:
- Cristina Nixon, M.S., L/CGC, a licensed certified genetic counselor with the Cancer Risk Assessment and Genetics Program at Main Line Health
- Dana Yorko, who was diagnosed with stage III inflammatory breast cancer in 2013. Dana later experienced a recurrence and was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer. She underwent genetic counseling with Cristina, which led to genetic testing.
Learn more about the information presented in this video:
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.
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How To Reduce The Risk Of Metastasis
After someone has received initial treatment, breast cancer can lay dormant in the body before spreading to other areas. People who have received treatment in the past should monitor themselves for any signs or symptoms that could indicate cancer recurrence.
While there is no single way to avoid developing metastatic breast cancer entirely, there are some lifestyle changes that can help reduce a persons risk.
People may reduce the risk of metastases with the following factors:
- having regular health screenings