Metastatic breast cancer is breast cancer that has spread to another part of the body, most commonly the bones, lungs, brain, or liver. It’s classified as advanced (stage 4) breast cancer.
Metastasis refers to the process through which cancer spreads. Metastasis happens when cancer cells break away from the original tumor in the breast and travel to other parts of the body. These cancer cells travel through the bloodstream or the lymphatic system (the network of lymph nodes and vessels that removes bacteria, viruses, and cell waste). In metastatic breast cancer, cells may spread to the bones, brain, liver and lungs.
Breast cancer that spreads to other parts of your body is still considered as breast cancer. The cancer cells are still breast cancer cells therefore your care team will use breast cancer treatments even if the cancer cells are in other parts of your body.
When do people get a metastatic breast cancer diagnosis?
Metastatic breast cancer can occur at different points:
De novo metastatic breast cancer: Metastatic cancer is diagnosed mostly when the people are first diagnosed with breast cancer.
Distant recurrence: Mostly recurrence of metastatic cancer 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.
What causes breast cancer to be metastasizing?
Cancerous cells can get into surrounding lymph nodes or blood arteries, and then use those vessels to spread throughout the body. These vessels carry fluid and blood throughout the body. In these new environments, cancer cells may produce small tumours.
Symptoms of Metastatic Breast Cancer are:
- Bone pain and fractures, if cancer has spread to the bone
- Headache, seizures, or dizziness, if cancer has spread to the brain
- Shortness of breath, if cancer has spread to the lung
- Jaundice or swelling in the belly, if cancer has spread to the liver.
What are the treatments for metastatic breast cancer?
The main treatment for metastatic breast cancer is systemic therapies which treats the entire body. Systemic therapies includes:
- Hormonal therapy
- Targeted therapy
Is there a cure for metastatic breast cancer?
Well, there is no cure for metastatic breast cancer. It is impossible to completely eradicate cancer cells once they have spread to a different, far-off part of the body. But the appropriate course of treatment can help you live longer and have a better quality of life.