Metastatic breast cancer (also called stage IV) is breast cancer that has spread to another part of the body, most commonly the liver, brain, bones, or lungs. Cancer cells can break away from the original tumor in the breast and travel to other parts of the body through the bloodstream or the lymphatic system, which is a large network of nodes and vessels that works to remove bacteria, viruses, and cellular waste products.
Breast cancer can come back in another part of the body months or years after the original diagnosis and treatment. Nearly 30% of women diagnosed with early-stage breast cancer will develop metastatic disease. Some people have metastatic breast cancer treatment when they are first diagnosed with breast cancer. This means that cancer in the breast wasn’t detected before it spread to another part of the body.
Treatment of Metastatic breast cancer
A metastatic tumor in a different part of the body is made up of cells from breast cancer. So if breast cancer spreads to the bone, the metastatic tumor in the bone is made up of breast cancer cells, not bone cells. Being diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer can be overwhelming. You may feel angry, scared, stressed, outraged, and depressed. Some people may question the treatments they had or maybe mad at their doctors or themselves for not being able to beat the disease. Others may deal with a diagnosis of metastatic breast cancer matter-of-factly. There is no right or wrong way to come to terms with the diagnosis. You need to do and feel what is best for you and your situation.
While metastatic breast cancer may not go away completely, treatment may control it for several years. If one treatment stops working, there usually is another one you can try. Cancer can be active sometimes and then go into remission at other times. Many different treatments — alone, in combination, or sequence — are often used. Taking breaks in treatment when the disease is under control and you are feeling good can make a big difference in your quality of life.
Symptoms of metastatic breast cancer
The symptoms of metastatic breast cancer can vary greatly depending on the location of cancer. This section covers the symptoms of breast cancer that has spread to the bone, lung, brain, and liver, and the tests used to diagnose metastatic breast cancer.
Bone Metastasis: The most common symptom of breast cancer that has spread to the bone is a sudden, noticeable new pain. The breast cancer support can spread to any bone, but most often spreads to the ribs, spine, pelvis, or the long bones in the arms and legs.
Lung Metastasis: When breast cancer moves into the lung, it often doesn’t cause symptoms. If a lung metastasis does cause symptoms, they may include pain or discomfort in the lung, shortness of breath, persistent cough, and others.
Brain Metastasis: Symptoms of breast cancer that has spread to the brain can include headache, changes in speech or vision, memory problems, and others.