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Metastatic Breast Cancer

Metastatic breast cancer is another name of stage IV breast cancer that has spread to the other parts of the body like usually in the liver, brain, bone, or lungs.

The cancerous cells can break and travel to the other parts of the body through the blood circulation or the lymphatic system that a large network of nodes and vessels, it works by removing viruses, bacteria, and cellular waste products.

Breast cancer can relapse into another part of the body months or year after the original diagnosis and treatment. Around 30% of women diagnosed with early-stage of breast cancer will develop the metastatic illness.

There is a term de novo metastatic used for the people who have metastatic breast cancer when they first diagnosed with breast cancer. This means that breast cancer was not detected before the spread of other body parts.

A metastatic tumor is made up of the cells from the breast cancerous cells, that spreads in other parts of the body. Though, cancer spreads to the bones, the metastatic tumor in the bone has made up of breast cancer cells and not from the bone cells.

Being diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer may be overwhelming. You may feel angry, stressed, scared, depressed, and outraged. Some people may question their previous treatment procedures or maybe mad at doctors or themselves for not being able to treat the disease. Some other people may deal with the diagnosis of metastatic breast cancer in a matter-of-fact way. There is no wrong or right way to come in the terms of diagnosis. You have to do and feel what is best for your situation and you. 

Metastatic diseases are not hopeless, keep it in mind. Many individuals continue to live long and productive lives with breast cancer in this stage. There are variety treatments are available for metastatic breast cancer, and new medicines are being tested every day. More and more individuals are living their life to the fullest while being treated for metastatic breast cancer.

Metastatic breast cancers do not go away completely hence treatment may control it for a number of years. You can opt for various types of treatment if one stops working, cancer can be active for some time and then go into remission at other times. Many different treatments: alone or combined are often used.

Symptoms of metastatic breast cancer

The symptoms of metastatic breast cancer may vary as per the spread and which type of tissue and the new cancer growth has invaded. The symptoms of metastatic breast cancer that may vary by the location include:

Metastasis in the bone may cause:

  • Severe, progressive pain
  • Swelling
  • Bones that are more easily fractured or broken


Metastasis to the brain may cause:

  • Persistent, progressively worsening headache or pressure to the head
  • Vision disturbances
  • Seizures
  • Vomiting or nausea
  • Behavioral changes or personality changes


Metastasis to the liver may cause:

  • Jaundice
  • Itchy skin or rash
  • Abnormally high enzymes in the liver
  • Abdominal pain, appetite loss, nausea, and vomiting


Metastasis to the lungs may cause:

  • Chronic cough or inability to get a full breath
  • Abnormal chest X-ray
  • Chest pain


Some other nonspecific systemic symptoms of metastatic breast cancer can include fatigue, weight loss, and poor appetite, but it’s important to remember these can also be caused by depression or medication.

A metastatic breast cancer diagnosis

If you develop metastatic breast cancer, it may or may not cause symptoms. Sometimes the symptoms of metastatic breast cancer may lead your doctor to perform tests to it or learn if an earlier cancer has metastasized. 

Your doctor may consider some factors while choosing a diagnostic test, these factors include:

  • Your medical history
  • Your symptoms
  • Location of the metastatic breast cancer in the body
  • Your physical examination results

Your doctor may advise you following diagnostic tests to diagnose metastatic breast cancer. These tests include:

X-ray: An x-ray creates the images of the internal structure of the body. X-ray uses a small amount of ionizing radiation. A chest x-ray can be done to check the spread of cancer in the lungs.

Bone scan: A bone scan can be used to look for cancer in the bones. This scan uses a radioactive tracer to look inside of the bones. The tracer is injected into the patient’s body by vein. It collects in the part of the bone and detected by a small camera. Normal areas of the bones appear lighter to the camera, and the affected areas stand out on the image.

Computed tomography (CT) scan: A CT or CAT scan used to look for tumors in organs outside of the breast such as the liver, lungs, bone, and lymph nodes. A CT scan takes the images of the internal structures in 2D or 3D in the form of slices. A 3D image gives detailed information of the abnormalities and tumors. A CT scan can also use to measure the size of the tumor. In some cases, a special dye also called a contrast media is given to the patient before the scan to provide better details of the internal structures. The contrast can be injected into a patient’s vein or may be given orally.

Positron emission tomography (PET) scan: A PET scan may also be used to check if cancer has spread to organs outside to the breast. A PET scan is usually combined with a CT scan, hence called a PET-CT scan. A PET scan gives detailed images of the internal structures of the body. In this procedure, a small amount of radioactive sugar substance is injected into the patient’s vein. This sugar substance is absorbed by the cells that use most of the energy. As cancer cells use energy actively, it absorbs more of the radioactive substance. A scanner then detects this substance to capture the images of the inside of the body. 

Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI): An MRI uses electromagnetic radiation to produce detailed images of the internal structures of the body. MRI can also helpful in measuring the size of the tumor or lesion. In some cases, a contrast medium (gadolinium) is also given intravenously (direct-injected into the vein) to the patient to give a clearer image.

Serum chemistry blood test: These tests are often done to look at the minerals in your body, such as potassium and calcium, and enzymes that may be abnormal if cancer has spread. These tests also evaluate the liver and kidney functions. 

Complete blood count (CBC): A complete blood count (CBC) measures the levels of different types of blood cells, such as red blood cell count and white blood cells count by testing a person’s blood sample.

Blood tumor marker test: Serum tumor markers or biomarkers are the tumor proteins in the blood. Elevated levels of a serum tumor marker can be due to cancer or a non-cancerous condition. Tumor marker testing is helpful to monitor the growth of recurrent metastatic disease along with the symptoms and imaging tests.

Metastatic breast cancer treatment

After diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer, it is helpful to take all the time you need to gather information and decide about your treatment. Treatments of metastatic breast cancer include:

  • Surgery
  • Chemotherapy
  • Radiation therapy
  • Hormonal therapy Metastatic breast cancer
  • Targeted therapy
  • Local treatment for distant areas of metastasis
  • Genetic testing and metastatic breast cancer video

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