Metastatic Breast Cancer: Causes, Symptoms & Treatment

Metastatic breast cancer spreads from the breast to all other parts of the body, such as the lungs, bones, and others parts of the body. Metastatic breast cancer can also be termed “stage IV breast cancer” or “Advanced breast cancer.” Metastatic breast cancer isn’t curable, but many other treatments help to get relief from the pain and symptoms and also help to slow its progress.

The survival rate after a patient is diagnosed with metastasis breast cancer is 3 to 5 years typically, but early diagnosis and proper treatment will help improve the survival rate of patients.

Causes of Metastatic Breast Cancer

Metastasis breast cancer is usually caused due to the spread of cancer cells through the bloodstream, to the lymph nodes that are present under the arm or near the collar bone, and through lymph nodes to other parts of the body.

Symptoms of Metastatic Breast Cancer

The symptoms of breast cancer depend on the type of tissues invaded by cancer and how far the cancer is spread. The symptoms of breast cancer are given below according to the area it is spread:

Metastasis to the brain:

  • Severe headache
  • Vision changes
  • Stroke
  • Confusion
  • Seizures
  • Memory loss
  • Mood or personality changes
  • Difficulty in balance and hearing
  • Dizziness
  • Difficulty in moving certain parts

Metastasis to the bones:

  • Constant pain in bone and joints
  • Neck or back pain
  • Nausea
  • Constipation
  • Lack of appetite
  • Extreme thirst
  • Numbness and weakness in specific areas of the body
  • Risk of bone fracture
  • Difficulty in urination

Metastasis to the liver:

  • Jaundice(yellowing of eyes and skin)
  • Rashes and itching
  • Abdominal swelling
  • Pain in the abdominal region and around the liver

Metastasis to the lymph nodes

  • Lump or swelling under the armpit
  • Lump or swelling in the area of the collar bone or breast bone
  • Swelling in your hand or arm

Metastasis to the lungs

  • Cough with blood and mucus
  • Wheezing
  • Difficulty in breathing and shortness of breath
  • Never-ending dry cough
  • Pain in the lungs area and all around the chest

Diagnosis of Metastatic Breast Cancer

During diagnosis, the doctor may find out why or how the breast cancer metastasized. He mainly asked about symptoms you are facing and your medical history to know the exact reason behind breast cancer metastasis.

The tests that are recommended to diagnose breast cancer include:

  • Blood tests which include a comprehensive metabolic panel and blood count
  • Imaging studies, CT bone scan, MRI, and PET
  • Biopsy in which tissues from specific areas are removed from testing
  • Bronchoscopy is when the doctor looks into the lungs and air passages for a complete diagnosis.
  • A tap is used to remove fluid from a specific area with breast cancer symptoms.

Treatment of Metastatic Breast Cancer

There isn’t any exact treatment for metastatic breast cancer, but there are a variety of options that are used for treatment to prolong lives. After the person is diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer, doctors use various treatment options that usually depend on cancer’s characteristics, which cancer has spread, and prior treatments.

The most common options of treatment that are used to treat stage 4 breast cancer are:

  • Hormonal therapies for hormone receptor-positive breast cancer are used to slow the growth of breast cancer.
  • Chemotherapy used alone or with a combination of other drugs is also used to stop the growth of metastatic breast cancer.

Other therapies are also used that help reduce the growth of cancer cells. Chemotherapy is not beneficial in some cases but has many side effects because it will not distinguish between cancer and non-cancer cells, which is why it harms normal cells during treatment.

Other therapies used to treat breast cancer includes:

  • Antibody treatments that are used to power the patient’s immune system
  • PARP-inhibitor that is used as a target enzyme to help in DNA repair
  • CDK4/6-inhibitor that are used interrupt specifically to slow or stop the growth of cancer cells.

Surgery is another option, but it’s not beneficial enough because it does not help remove all the cancer cells from the body and stop them from regrowing. In some cases, doctors recommend the targeted surgery and radiation to reduce pain and other symptoms. Radiation therapy can also kill the cancer cells and shrink the tumors present in the body, but it is not typical and may be recommended in specific situations.

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