Advanced breast cancer is the most difficult form of the disease to treat. Those who have stage IV cancer face much lower survival rates than those diagnosed in earlier stages. However, statistics alone do not determine what will happen to you as an individual with your battle of breast cancer. If you find you have advanced breast cancer, you need to learn as much as you can about your condition and thoroughly discuss your prognosis with your doctor so you can fully understand your treatment options and risks.
The Stage of Advanced Breast Cancer
Metastatic breast cancer is listed as stage III or IV cancer. This means that the cancer has spread beyond the breasts and lymph nodes. The cancerous tissues are often found in areas near the breasts, but they could also be located in other parts of the body. Those with stage IIIA or IIIB breast cancer usually have affected tissue in the chest or skin. Those who are diagnosed with stage IV advanced breast cancer often have cancer in the liver, lungs, brain, bones, or other organs.
Treating Advanced Breast Cancer
While the chances of five-year survival for patients with advanced breast cancer are much lower than those with earlier forms of the disease, it is still possible to receive effective treatments to help you recover from the illness.
Most advanced breast cancer patients are treated with a combination of drug and radiation therapies. Surgery is usually ineffective against late stages of cancer because the cancer has spread throughout the body and is therefore difficult to remove without causing substantial damage to the organs.
Radiation Treatment for Advanced Breast Cancer
Radiation therapy is an effective treatment for advanced breast cancer because it can be used to kill cancerous cells in several parts of the body. Since this is a non-invasive treatment, doctors do not have to worry about the damaging effects of multiple incisions. While this might be a better option than surgery, radiation therapy often produces unwanted side effects that can be difficult for extremely ill patients to tolerate. In some cases, you may decide that it is best to consider hospice care because the treatment would only cause pain without curing the disease.
Drug Treatment for Advanced Breast Cancer
Chemotherapy is the most popular form of drug treatment for advanced breast cancer. Like radiation therapy, this method can be used to kill cancer cells that have spread throughout the body, but it can also, like radiation, cause unwanted and unpleasant side effects. Some other drug therapies that are often used to treat or control the spread of breast cancer include medications like Taxol, Aromasin, Tomoxifen, Letrozole, and Herceptin – among others.
If you and your doctor decide your advanced breast cancer is essentially untreatable, you might want to consider medical techniques which can extend your life and decrease the discomfort that you feel. Although a cure may not be possible, you do not necessarily have to suffer with the disease. Many patients with advanced breast cancer have found they can enjoy the rest of their lives spending time with friends and family while receiving treatments for the pain and discomfort caused by the disease.