Metastatic Breast Cancer
Metastatic breast cancer is an advanced form of breast cancer in which the cancer has spread to other parts of the body from the area where it originally developed in the breast. Breast cancer usually spreads to the lungs, bones, liver and brain.
Metastasis or ‘spread’ of cancer may occur:
- Through invasion of the nearby healthy tissue by the cancer cells
- When cancer cells pass through the blood or lymphatic system and travel to other areas of the body
- Through ‘seeding’ of cancer cells which break off from the primary tumour and become lodged in other parts of the body
Metastatic breast cancer is also known as stage 4 breast cancer because it has spread beyond the breast tissue to other parts of the body.
Signs & Symptoms
The signs and symptoms of metastatic breast cancer may vary depending on the location to which the cancer has spread:
- Metastasis to the lung may result in difficulty breathing, chronic cough, and chest pain, and non-specific symptoms such as fatigue, weight loss and poor appetite.
- Metastasis to the liver may cause itchy skin, rash, jaundice, increased production of liver enzymes, abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, and loss of appetite.
- Metastasis to the bone may cause brittle bones that are prone to fracture, bone swelling, and bone pain.
- Metastasis to the brain may cause progressively severe headaches, vision disturbances, seizures and personality changes.
Diagnostic tests may include a chest X-ray to look for metastasis to the lungs, a bone scan to look for spread to the bones, CT or PET scan to look for tumours growing inside other organs such as the liver, and blood tests to look for tumour markers.
Specific treatment for metastatic breast cancer will depend on:
- Mutations in the tumour
- Spread of cancer
- Symptoms experienced
- Overall health
Treatment options include:
- Hormonal therapy for treatment of cancers that have hormone receptors
- Chemotherapy to destroy the ability of the cancer to grow
- Targeted therapy that focuses on the specific genes and proteins of the cancer that may be targeted to destroy cancer cells which leave healthy cells unharmed.
- Radiation therapy uses high energy X-rays to destroy cancer cells. It may be used to shrink a tumour. This therapy can be used for treatment of metastases to the brain.
- Surgery may be employed to treat metastatic cancer if the tumour is causing discomfort.