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Metastatic Breast Cancer and How to Live with the Condition

Although you may feel that breast cancer is a treatable disease, it always pays to be cautious and seek medical intervention in time to arrest it. Breast cancer if neglected or diagnosed too late can ultimately progress to metastatic breast cancer which is the term to describe stage 4 of advanced breast cancer. The statistics of breast cancer in the USA are alarming where an estimated 252,710 women will be diagnosed with invasive breast cancer in the USA alone in 2017. Amongst these 40,610 women are expected to die from breast cancer this year.

In metastatic breast cancer, the disease invades surrounding organs ultimately reaching the brain. Rather than dwelling on the implications of the disease, one should focus on factors that create an environment within the body that leads to the question how does metastatic breast cancer spread from stage 3?

1Survival rates of Metastatic breast cancer

While there is no further stage with metastatic breast cancer being the being the last stage of the disease, there is much one can do to lead a better quality of life. Survival rates of stage IV depend on a victim’s lifestyle where the usual perceived survival rate is five years. However! Women have lived longer with the disease and there are treatments to help a woman live a better quality and longevity of life. This article provides a brief but informative condition of the disease and how breast cancer can be prevented naturally.

What is metastatic breast cancer?

When it reaches stage IV, it is generally referred to as advanced  or invasive breast cancer. It is the most advanced form of breast cancer where it cells start attacking the liver, bones, and brain. In such a condition it means cancer has metastasized and hence the name.

2Advanced breast cancer stage IV creates the following conditions

  • It cells attack healthy cells which then start replicating abnormal cells
  • It cells invade circulatory system and lymph nodes
  • The lymphatic system then helps transport cancer cells to various parts of the body
  • Blood capillaries stop the movement of cancer cells
  • It cells then collect in such areas divide and enter surrounding tissue
  • New tumors start growing called micrometastases
Advanced breast cancer stage IV
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3Risk factors of metastatic breast cancer

The reasons for metastatic breast cancer are varied and depend on several conditions of which the primary one being the body’s response to treatment, ones state of immunity and the ability to resist cancer. While any cancer can progress to a more fatal and invasive form of the disease, it isn’t possible to pinpoint which type will do so. Till today medical research is currently underway on finding out why breast cancer metastasizes and leads to the advanced stage IV of breast cancer.

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Inflammatory breast cancer: This is a faster type and that is found among 1% to 5 % of all breast cancers. Prevention of this can also prevent this type of the disease. The following mentioned types of cancers are the risk factors of metastatic breast cancer and usually provide valuable information to your doctor how to treat the disease.

Hormone receptor-positive Cancers that use the hormones Estrogen and progesterone to grow. Occurs in younger women and account for 65% of breast cancers.

HER2-positive Depends on the Human epidermal growth factor for growth. Accounts for 25%. Grows faster and can even lead to the brain.

Triple negative does not show any of the above conditions but can grow very quickly: Occurs in 15% of women and research shows that this is frequent among black women. It also occurs in those with BRCA gene mutations.

Genetics genetics play a major role in increasing the risk of breast cancer where as mentioned above mutations in the BRCA 1 and BRCA 2 gene increases risk.

There are common perceptions as to what may be allowing a recurrence and its progress to the metastatic stage IV. Although one can’t really avoid developing it, scientists are continuing their research on how to slow down or arrest the growth of the metastatic cells.

metastatic breast cancer
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4Metastatic breast cancer symptoms

Usually, the symptoms of advanced stage IV will vary and depend on what part of the body has been invaded by cancer.

  • Chest area Lumps in the breast with discharge from nipples. Underarm lumps
  • Bones bone pain, easily fractured, constipation, poor focus because of reduced calcium
  • Lungs Breath shortness, breathing difficulties, prolonged cough, chest wall pain, fatigue, tiredness.
  • Liver nausea, tiredness, and fatigue, abdominal pain, feet swelling because of fluid retention, yellowing of skin, itchy skin
  • Brain and spinal cord Memory loss, poor concentration, headache, blurry vision, speech impairment, motion difficulty, seizures.

Diagnosing metastatic breast cancer

Diagnosing the various manifestations of metastatic breast cancer depends on various tests of which there are three most important ones.

  • Blood test to find out if the disease has spread to liver and bines
  • Bone scans for spread of the disease to the bone
  • X-rays and CT scans for spread of the disease to liver, chest, and abdomen
  • PET (Positron Emission Tomography) for further investigation depending on the result of the first three tests.
Positron Emission Tomography
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5Treatment of Metastatic breast cancer

When a person has been diagnosed, it needs to be understood that there is no cure for the disease although treatment exists to make the patient’s life as painless as possible as well as prolong longevity and improve the quality of life. Although the survival rate has been presumed at 5 years, there are women who have lived for almost 10 years with the condition.

When you speak about prevention, the term would more generally apply to abiding by healthy protocols that show you how to prevent it. Some studies also advocate nutrition such as the Mediterranean diet which decreases the risk of breast cancer.

Read this article on how the Mediterranean diet decreases the risk of breast cancer

Treatment options

Treatment of advanced stage IV depends o various factors primarily how far cancer has spread. Treatment in metastatic breast cancer has to be changed frequently because the disease can stop responding to drugs. Your doctor will usually formulate a treatment plan to control the symptoms and reduce the pace of the disease.

The most common form of treatment of the advanced invasive stage or it is systematic therapy consisting of hormonal, chemo and targeted therapy. There is also radiation therapy as well as surgery which is only used in the case of a tumor that could cause an obstruction or discomfort. Your doctor may also provide treatments that help a patient cope with the related conditions of anxiety stress and insomnia.

cancer patient
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6Living with metastatic breast cancer how to cope

Metastatic breast cancer treatment cannot cure the disease although it helps control its rapid onset into the system. The primary goal of doctors treating such is to help a patient live a better quality and dignity of life in the same manner as a chronic disease. Although living with the disease may be a challenge for some both physically and emotionally, there are ways and means you can help yourself come to terms with the disease and reduce much of the emotional stress associated with it.

The main goals of life with metastatic breast cancer

  • Coming to terms with the challenge you face
  • Understanding and thinking about various solutions
  • Recognizing and facing your fears
  • Being comfortable with your option of treatment
  • Family support
  • The best way to manage the challenge of metastatic breast cancer is through the following steps
  • Being in presence of family and enjoying their support and comfort
  • Counseling and therapy to manage depression
  • Joining a support group or community
  • Treatment assistance
  • De-stressing activity that you are comfortable with
lady doing yoga
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7Preventing breast cancer

Scientists have identified possible triggers that lead to the spread of breast cancer to further stages but are yet to conclude the research which is still ongoing. While this is an overview of metastatic breast cancer that discusses the disease and its management, the main goal of every woman is to avoid itself. One should live by a lifestyle that does not indulge in triggering the risk factors of the disease. It can’t really be prevented in totality as there are sizeable chunks of the population who may acquire the disease but there is a lot you can do to reduce the risk of the disease.

For those who have experienced menopause, it should be noted that obesity puts you at risk of breast cancer because of an increase of the hormone estrogen in the body. Moreover According to studies in the UK one of the benefits of breastfeeding is to reduce the risk.

Ways to prevent breast cancer

  • Reduce sitting down time as it increases risk
  • Quit smoking
  • Avoid hormonal replacement therapy
  • Maintain a healthy weight
  • Maintain a well-balanced diet
  • Avoid cancer-causing foods
  • Reduce saturated fat and alcohol
  • Avoid surgeries that put you at risk
  • Exercise regularly
  • Immediate treatment for arresting breast cancer

It is imperative that the families of those suffering from metastatic breast cancer provide as much love, care, and support to enable one cope with the emotional challenge of the disease. There is nothing much you can do when one has it being the advanced stage of the disease, but as human beings, we can do much to help the patient feel positive and live a more dignified quality of life.

Thinking girl
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