Metastatic breast cancer is the most advanced stage of the disease. This stage IV breast cancer has spread beyond the breasts and lymph nodes to other parts of the body. Breast cancer typically spreads to the bones first, but can also attack the lungs, liver, and other body parts.
Given the advanced stage of the disease, many doctors will try to offer their patients the best treatments that will improve quality of life through the duration of their fight. It’s important to note that many, many individuals have been successfully treated for stage IV metastatic breast cancer. Given this fact, one should never give up hope. Hope is arguably the most important factor in successful treatment and a return to health.
Symptoms of Metastatic Breast Cancer
Some of the symptoms of metastatic breast cancer are the same as those accompanying other types of breast cancer. These include changes in breast size, shape, or color, and finding a lump in the breast tissue during monthly self-exams. Those who have reached the late stages of breast cancer and now have metastatic breast cancer, often experience other symptoms that can include unexplained weight loss, severe headaches, shortness of breath during normal activities, pain in the bones, and loss of appetite.
If you experience these symptoms in conjunction with or after experiencing other typical symptoms of breast cancer, you should seek medical attention immediately.
Diagnosing Metastatic Breast Cancer
Women over 40 or with a history of cancer in their family should receive annual mammograms to check for warning signs of cancerous tissues. Those who get annual mammograms are less likely to experience metastatic breast cancer because the disease can be caught in an earlier, more manageable stage. If you exhibit symptoms of breast cancer, visit a doctor for a professional diagnosis. There are several diagnostic options your doctor may want to use. These include MRIs, CAT scans, X-rays, bone scans, and blood tests.
Treating Metastatic Breast Cancer
Metastatic breast cancer is usually a highly aggressive form of the disease. Some patients who have reached this stage after several attempts to treat their cancer may want to focus on extending life and/or improving the quality of their life while reducing the painful symptoms of the disease. Those who have a high tolerance for treatments, though, might choose to continue to undergo radiation therapy, chemotherapy, or other aggressive and advisable treatments. While these therapies might kill the cancer, they often produce side effects that can be difficult for cancer patients in advanced stages of the disease to handle.
Surgery is not usually an option for those diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer because the cancerous cells have spread to other parts of the body, making these cells difficult to remove without causing significant damage during surgery.
Living with Metastatic Breast Cancer
It’s natural to feel despair when you are diagnosed with this advanced form of cancer, but studies have shown that 20 percent of those diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer live for five years of more after their initial diagnoses. It’s important, then, for patients to focus on their quality of life as well as their treatments. A diagnosis of metastatic breast cancer does not have to be seen as the end of life. Organizations like the National Cancer Institute have booklets that can help those living with cancer find ways to maximize the time they have left by focusing on what is important and welcoming each new day as a gift.