Understanding Metastatic Breast Cancer
A diagnosis of breast cancer can be enormously overwhelming and frightening for anyone. But when the diagnosis is that of metastatic breast cancer, the fear can be staggering. This type of cancer is defined as breast cancer that has spread from the breast – the original site of the cancer – to other parts of the body such as the bones, lungs, or liver. The treatment may be devastating to a newly diagnosed patient; but new advances in treatment can help manage symptoms and increase longevity.
When cancer cells break away from the originally affected site, and spread to other parts of the body through the blood or lymphatic system, this is referred to as metastatic cancer. When the original cancer site – or primary site, as it is referred to by physicians – is the breast – and cancer cells spread from this location – this becomes known as metastatic breast cancer. The cancer that has moved from the breast and developed in other locations becomes known as the secondary cancer.
The treatment options for this cancer are the same as treating any other cancer. But treatment must be aggressive based on the stage of this particular disease. Because the definition of metastatic breast cancer is cancer that has spread from the breast to other parts of the body, treatment must be speedy and assertive in order to stop the spread of the cells to any further locations in the body.
Treatment plans may include surgery wherein the cancerous growths are removed from the body; radiation during which affected cells are attacked with pinpoint x-ray technology; and chemotherapy which exposes the patient to a course of intravenous drug therapy designed to stop the growth of cancer cells. In most cases, however, a combination of several therapies will be used in order to achieve the greatest chance of success. There are also experimental and holistic therapies that patients often try in conjunction with other therapies and under the guidance of their doctor. As the needs of each patient vary, so do the treatment plans.
The most common secondary locations are the lungs, brain, liver, and bones. Metastatic breast cancer is certainly not confined to these locations and not all may be affected; these are statistically the most frequently affected areas. However it is not defined as cancer that has spread to any places close to the breast such as skin, muscles underneath or around the breast, or bones nearby the primary cancer location.
While a frightening diagnosis, it does not have to mean a death sentence. Armed with the most up-to-date research and treatment options, patients can act as advocates for their own health, making educated decisions regarding the course of their treatment. As research continues concerning the newest and best ways to treat metastatic breast cancer, sufferers and their families will continue to see advances in medical treatment that will foster health and save lives.