Stage IV of breast cancer, or the advanced form of breast cancer, is commonly referred to as metastatic breast cancer. Although not a specific type of cancer, it denotes the severity and stage of the progression of the disease. At this stage, the cancer has spread beyond the breast and has affected the lymph nodes associated with other organs in the body, such as the bones, liver, lungs, and even the brain. Although the cancer spreads to the other regions or organs within the body, it is still viewed as breast cancer and treated with specific metastatic breast cancer treatment options. For example, breast cancer that has spread to the bones is not counted as an additional bone cancer but rather treated as metastatic breast cancer of the bones. This is because the origin of the cancer is known.
The occurrence of metastatic breast cancer
In some cases, the very stage at which breast cancer is first diagnosed is the metastatic stage. This is what is referred to as de novo metastatic breast cancer. Usually, this form of cancer arises quite a few years after the individual has completed breast cancer treatment (the early or locally advanced stages). Metastatic breast cancer is at times a distant recurrence.
What are the risks associated with metastatic breast cancer?
Around 154,000 people have reported having been diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer in the country itself. Additionally, the risk of this form of advanced breast cancer varies from individual to individual. It also depends on other various factors, including:
- The tumor’s biology (the different characteristics and behavior of the cancer cells)
- At what stage the cancer was initially diagnosed
- The type of breast cancer treatments that had been pursued in the quest to prevent any form of recurrence at a later stage
What are the treatment options for metastatic breast cancer?
Unfortunately, there is no metastatic breast cancer treatment option that can cure advanced breast cancer. In addition, while the adjoining areas of the breast and lymph nodes affected by breast cancer can be removed, the treatment cannot heal the cancer that has spread to other organs completely. However, this does not mean that treatment is not an option for this form of cancer; it simply focuses on the longevity and quality of life.
There are quite a few critical factors that determine the course of metastatic breast cancer treatment. These factors include:
- The cancer’s characteristic and behavioral patterns
- The areas where the cancer has spread
- The symptoms that the patient is experiencing and its intensity
- Previous treatments that the individual had undergone for breast cancer
If the breast cancer shows signs of the hormone receptors being positive, the primary course of action would involve hormone therapy. Whereas, if there are signs of HER2 positive breast cancer, anti-HER2 targeted therapy through the use of medications like trastuzumab, would be prescribed. Immunotherapy, through the use of medicines such as Atezolizumab, is prescribed in combination with paclitaxel, a chemotherapy medication, if the patient has triple negative breast cancers; this tests as PD-L1 positive.
In addition, radiation and chemotherapy would be a course of action that would help shrink the size of tumors or focus on spurring further growth alongside easing the symptoms. In the latter form of treatments, there are possibilities of side effects that may have a lasting impact, which may further compromise the affected person’s quality of life. It is critical to choose the right metastatic breast cancer treatment option to ensure that the quality of life is not threatened or harmed in a major way. It is important to learn all the options and consult a doctor before taking any major steps.
What are the treatment guidelines?
While the course of metastatic breast cancer treatment can vary from person to person, there are steps that a patient can take to ensure that they get the best quality of care. One can clear their doubts or suspicions through the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) and National Comprehensive Cancer Network (NCCN) in order to see what their treatment guidelines are.
Although the most common type of cancer among women, breast cancer can affect men as well. It is, therefore, essential to stick to a healthy diet regime and continue exercising daily. Moreover, if one notices any abnormalities, it is essential to get it checked by a specialist at the earliest. The specialist will then conduct tests to diagnose the stage and derive an appropriate treatment method.