Metastatic breast cancer is also called stage IV or advanced breast cancer and is when the cancer has spread to organs and tissue beyond the breast. Breast cancer that has spread to the lymph nodes does not mean that you have metastatic breast cancer. Most often the cancer spreads to the bones, lungs, liver or brain, and regardless of the organs that it spreads to, the cancer will be classified as breast cancer.
It is estimated that about 154,000 women in the United States have metastatic breast cancer. While it is possible to have metastatic cancer when you are first diagnosed, it is more common that it will occur months or years after being treated for a lower stage breast cancer. Of the annual cases, only 6% of them are metastatic cases upon initial diagnosis.
With metastatic breast cancer, there is treatment available, but there is no cure. Treatment for advanced stage cancer is meant to focus on the length of your life and the quality you will have. When developing a plan for metastatic breast cancer treatment, doctors will take into consideration the characteristics of the cancer cells, where the cells have spread, your symptoms and past treatment methods.
Facing a cancer that cannot be cured can be difficult, frustrating and upsetting. When facing advanced stage cancer it may be useful to consider support groups for both you and your family as well as pain management resources.
The most important factor to remember is that treating and managing metastatic breast cancer is a personal decision. Talking with your family and health care providers can help support your decisions. There is no exact time frame for advanced stage cancer and the decision to be involved in clinical trials or treatment remains your own.
To learn more about advanced stage cancer, visit the Susan G. Komen site to learn more the diagnosis, support groups, and treatment options.
Sources: Susan G. Komen – Living with Metastatic Breast Cancer