Coping With Advanced Breast Cancer
Being told that you have advanced or metastatic breast cancer may be very confronting or overwhelming. Some women also find the news that their cancer has spread or come back is more devastating than their original diagnosis.
There are many resources available online to help you further understand the meaning of your diagnosis and how to manage the emotional, physical and practical issues arising from metastatic breast cancer. Below are some links where these resources can be accessed:
Connecting and speaking with others who have gone through a similar experience can also be helpful. Cancer Council runs support groups all across Australia which can provide support and information for people with cancer and their families. Groups in each state can be accessed here:
Although support groups can provide a safe place for people to express their feelings amongst others who share a similar experience, some people are more comfortable talking one-on-one, such as with a counsellor, therapist or trained volunteer . Your GP can also refer you to a psychologist, social worker or other trained therapist. Every person is different and it is important to find a healthy support system that works for you.
I May Not Feel Like A Fighter Theres No Final Victory
The language used to describe cancer and its treatment is often the language of war: fighting cancer, battling cancer, being a warrior. But those words may not resonate with women who have metastatic breast cancer.
Sendelbach recalls using fighting words when she was first diagnosed with stage 1 breast cancer. I was 30 years old, and I was in fight mode, she says. I was like, Hell yeah, I can kick cancers ass and so on. When she was diagnosed with stage 4, though, she realized there would be no end in sight, no final victory for her.
Theres not a finish line, she says, so to be in fight mode doesnt really work. There has to be an end in sight to stay in that place.
For her, metastatic breast cancer is something she deals with day to day. She describes her journey as a marathon, not a sprint. If you have to stop sometimes to walk and take water breaks, she says, you should. If you try to run as fast as you can all the time, its inevitable that youre going to fail.
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.
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Want To Learn More About Your Breast Cancer Treatment Options Were Here For You
Whether you just received your diagnosis or youre looking for new treatment options, were here to help.
If youve just been diagnosed with breast cancer, your next stop will be to meet with a nurse navigator or breast surgeon, depending on your initial diagnosis, and start building your treatment plan. We offer cancer care clinic locations across the Twin Cities and western Wisconsin, so get started by selecting a location to make an appointment at.
Stage 4 Breast Cancer Prognosis
Once the breast cancer has been diagnosed as stage 4 breast cancer, the cancer has spread to other organs like the bones, lung, liver and brain.Stage 4 breast cancer is considered incurable by modern medicine. There are medical therapies that allow more women to live longer. The cancer is treated as a chronic condition.Key to success is a support system, personal motivation and proper care. There is one thing just as important as the above if not more. You have to give your body what it needs to heal. Some have extend their lives several years longer in spite of the stage 4 cancer diagnoses.
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Being Your Own Advocate
While there aren’t currently any studies looking at self-advocacy and survival, being your own advocate can’t hurt in maximizing your survival. Oncology is changing rapidly and it’s difficult for any oncologisteven those who specialize in breast cancerto stay aware of all of the latest research and clinical trials taking place.
It can be helpful to research your cancer yourself. Becoming involved via social media such as Twitter is also an excellent way to learn about the latest research, using the hashtag #bcsm, which stands for breast cancer social media.
Getting a second opinion can be helpful as well, especially from one of the larger cancer centers such as a National Cancer Institute-designated cancer center.
There are ways to learn about opportunities, however, that don’t require traveling for opinions. There are now clinical trial matching services in which a nurse navigator can help to match your particular tumor and characteristics with clinical trials in progress all over the world.
Several of the larger cancer centers are now also offering remote second opinions, in which an oncology team can review your medical information and talk to you on the phone about whether there are any opportunities for treatment for you that may not be available elsewhere.
For Family And Friends
Caring for a loved one with stage 4 breast cancer has special challenges as well. Fortunately, organizations such as CancerCare now offer support groups design for loved ones who are caring for someone with cancer. In addition to caring for yourself , it’s helpful to learn about metastatic breast cancer.
Common things that people learn about cancer usually refer to an early-stage disease, and myths about metastatic breast cancer can be painful for those living with advanced disease. For example, one of the things not to say to someone with metastatic breast cancer is “When will you be done with treatment?”
For the most part, people with metastatic breast cancer will require some type of treatment for the rest of their lives.
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How The Breast Cancer Staging Process Starts
The breast cancer staging process begins with diagnostic testing. Depending on previous screening results, if any breast cancer symptoms are present, and other factors, your doctor may recommend one of the following tests:
- Diagnostic mammogram A mammogram involves using an X-ray to take photos of your breast tissue at different angles. To do this, your breasts are gently compressed between two plates so the X-ray can be taken.
- Ultrasound An ultrasound is a non-invasive imaging test that bounces soundwaves of your breast tissue to create a picture of the inside of your breast.
- MRI An MRI is another non-invasive imaging test that uses radio waves and a magnetic field to create an image of your breast tissue. This can help doctors determine the size and placement of tumors.
- Biopsy A biopsy removes small masses and growths from your breast so they can be examined under a microscope by a pathologist and determine if theyre cancerous.
If cancer is detected, a CT scan may be ordered to look for any distant metastasis or local invasion to other organs. And youll likely be connected with a breast surgeon right away, either through a nurse navigator or your doctor.
What To Do If You Have Breast Cancer
When you learn about such an unpleasant diagnosis, the first thing to do is to avoid panic in any way. Try to pull yourself together. After that, be sure to look for an experienced doctor who will tell you what to do and how to proceed. Only an experienced doctor will be able to give you the right diagnosis, assess your overall condition, and be able to provide assistance that will lead to a positive result.
The main thing, in this case, is to see a professional doctor. Unfortunately, many countries have adopted a radical fight against this disease. Therefore, the question, whether it is possible to cure without surgery, the answer is a resounding no. But in the USA, such treatment can be carried out much more gently. Clinics here offer to conduct surgery for breast cancer, but try to keep as much healthy tissue as possible. In addition, after surgery in such centers, you will certainly be offered plastic surgery to restore the breast.
So, if you or your loved one was diagnosed with breast cancer, even if it is stage 4, do not panic. Find a great oncologist, select the best treatment option, and start it immediately. With this approach, the probability of a positive outcome increases many times. Remember even the worst and most difficult diagnosis can be a thing of the past if you start the right treatment on time and believe in the best outcome.
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Treatment Options For Stage Iv Breast Cancer
For women with stage IV breast cancer, systemic therapies are the main treatments. These may include:
- Some combination of these
Treatment can often shrink tumors , improve symptoms, and help women live longer. These cancers are considered incurable.
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.
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Metastatic Breast Cancer: What You Should Know
What does it mean to have metastatic, or stage 4, breast cancer? A Rogel Cancer Center oncologist explains the diagnosis and how its treated.
After hearing a diagnosis of metastatic breast cancer, a rush of questions emerges. But often, its not until long after leaving the doctors office.
Metastatic means the cancer has spread beyond the breast and immediate lymph nodes to other organs or tissues in the body, most often the bones, brain, lungs or liver. Its considered stage 4 breast cancer, which means the cancer has progressed to its most advanced stage.
But even though its moved to other organs, it still behaves like breast cancer and is treated with breast cancer therapies.
More than 154,000 U.S. women are estimated to have metastatic breast cancer, according to the Susan G. Komen organization. Men can have metastatic breast cancer too, but its rare.
To help patients fill in information gaps, N. Lynn Henry, M.D., Ph.D., the breast oncology disease lead for the University of Michigan Rogel Cancer Center, explains the nuances of stage 4 metastatic breast cancer.
What are the differences between metastatic breast cancer, stage 4 breast cancer and advanced cancer?
If any doctor uses the term advanced, ask for clarification, Henry adds.
When does metastatic breast cancer appear?
What are the symptoms?
Symptoms of bone metastases:
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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Early Detection And Self
- Women need to do monthly breast self-examination 2 days after the last day of their period. This is important for screening method
- Women over the age of 45 should consider going for a regular mammogram
- It is important to know whats normal for your body and be aware of symptoms of breast cancer. As early detection improves the chances of successful treatment
- Have a simple monthly breast self-examination to check your own breasts for lump or anything that seems unusual
Understanding Breast Cancer Survival Rates
Prognosis varies by stage of breast cancer.
Non-invasive and early stage invasive breast cancers have a better prognosis than later stage cancers .
Breast cancer thats only in the breast and has not spread to the lymph nodes has a better prognosis than breast cancer thats spread to the lymph nodes.
The poorest prognosis is for metastatic breast cancer , when the cancer has spread beyond the breast and nearby lymph nodes to other parts of the body.
Learn more about breast cancer treatment.
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What Are The Symptoms Of Inflammatory Breast Cancer
Symptoms of inflammatory breast cancer include swelling and redness that affect a third or more of the breast. The skin of the breast may also appear pink, reddish purple, or bruised. In addition, the skin may have ridges or appear pitted, like the skin of an orange . These symptoms are caused by the buildup of fluid in the skin of the breast. This fluid buildup occurs because cancer cells have blocked lymph vessels in the skin, preventing the normal flow of lymph through the tissue. Sometimes the breast may contain a solid tumor that can be felt during a physical exam, but more often a tumor cannot be felt.
Other symptoms of inflammatory breast cancer include a rapid increase in breast size; sensations of heaviness, burning, or tenderness in the breast; or a nipple that is inverted . Swollen lymph nodes may also be present under the arm, near the collarbone, or both.
It is important to note that these symptoms may also be signs of other diseases or conditions, such as an infection, injury, or another type of breast cancer that is locally advanced. For this reason, women with inflammatory breast cancer often have a delayed diagnosis of their disease.
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.
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How Is Inflammatory Breast Cancer Treated
Inflammatory breast cancer is generally treated first with systemic chemotherapy to help shrink the tumor, then with surgery to remove the tumor, followed by radiation therapy. This approach to treatment is called a multimodal approach. Studies have found that women with inflammatory breast cancer who are treated with a multimodal approach have better responses to therapy and longer survival. Treatments used in a multimodal approach may include those described below.
Survival And Mortality Rates
Survival depends on mortality. You start with 100 percent of the people in the group.
100 percent mortality rate = survival rate
Say, the mortality rate in the group of people is 5 percent. Survival would be 95 percent .
Similarly, the number of people in a group who survive depends on the number of people who die. Say,;500 people are;in the group and 1 person dies. This means 499 people survived .
How Is Stage 4 Breast Cancer Treatedand What’s The Survival Rate
While every stage 4 breast cancer diagnosis is differentwhich means the methods used to treat it will also differthis stage of breast cancer is usually treated systemically , since the cancer has already spread to other areas of the body. Systemic treatments usually include options like hormone therapy, chemotherapy, targeted therapy, and immunotherapy, according to the NCI.
Still, those treatments vary depending on a variety of factors, including where the cancer is located, as well as the patient’s symptoms, overall health, and previous cancer treatmentsand patients are closely monitored throughout treatment for the best outcome.;Patients are generally started on the treatment of best reflex or biology and followed closely using scans, with change in treatments as needed if the current treatment is not resulting and either shrinkage or stability of the breast cancer, Dr. Tripathy explains.;
In addition to more standard systemic treatment options, Dr. Tripathy explains that there are newer technologies being increasingly usedlike ones that sequence the DNA of cancerous tumor cells for more specified treatmentsas well as various clinical trials designed to offer more options and possibly better outcomes to those dealing with the disease.;