Understanding Metastatic Breast Cancer

Cancer is said to have metastasized when the cancerous cells spread to the other parts of the body. The signs and symptoms of this disease depend on what other organ has been affected by the rogue cells. If breast cancer metastasizes, it typically affects organs like the bones, brain, lungs, and liver.

  • Bones
    The symptoms will usually include pain in the bones or joints that gets worse with physical activity, back or neck pain, numbness or weakness in some parts of the body, trouble urinating, nausea, constipation, lack of appetite, and extreme thirst.
  • Lungs
    Persistent dry cough, wheezing, trouble breathing, coughing up blood and mucus, and chest pain are some common symptoms of breast cancer metastasizing to the lungs.
  • Liver
    Jaundice, abdominal swelling, itching or rashes, and pain around the liver area are a few signs and symptoms that can come to the surface in case of liver metastasis.
  • Brain
    If cancer has spread to the brain, it can cause symptoms such as headaches, memory problems, changes in vision, confusion, changes in mood or personality, difficulty in movement, balance issues, dizziness, seizures, and strokes.

While there is no certain cure for this condition, treatments can help manage the signs and symptoms and also slow down the progression of metastatic breast cancer. Modern science has come up with new treatments that can help increase one’s life expectancy rate and improve the quality of their life as well.

In cases of metastatic breast cancer, patients will be asked what kind of treatments they will be comfortable with after discussing its estimated results and possible side-effects. There will also be a palliative care team to help them get through the emotional and physical aftermath of the treatment.

The following are some common treatments used to treat metastatic breast cancer signs and symptoms. Doctors can employ one or a combination of these, depending on the severity of the condition.

  • Hormone therapy
    If the cancer is caused due to abnormal levels of estrogen or progesterone in the body, hormone therapy medications can be used to shrink the tumor. These medicines help starve the cancerous cells by targeting the hormones they thrive on.
  • Anti- HER2 targeted treatment
    There are some breast cancer cells that have high levels of a protein known as HER2. This protein makes cancer predisposed to growing and spreading quickly. Anti-HER2 targeted treatment enable to slow down the progression of HER2 tumors.
  • Chemotherapy
    The chemotherapy medications can be administered intravenously or orally in cycles, i.e., after every few weeks. These help to kill fast-growing cancerous cells. Although this treatment helps shrink the tumors faster as compared to other therapies, its side effects also happen to be more severe. Some of the common side effects are fatigue, vomiting, and hair loss.
    Triple negative breast cancers, which are not caused by hormones or HER2 proteins often need chemotherapy to treat the signs and symptoms.
  • Radiation and surgery
    To remove cancer in a specific part of the body, radiation and surgery can be used. It can even be done to prevent bone fractures, treat blood vessel blockage in the liver, or provide relief from pain and various other metastatic breast cancer symptoms.
  • Targeted therapy
    These type of drugs inhibit the growth and spread of cancerous cells. Unlike chemotherapy that also affects the healthy cells, targeted therapy medicines only destroy cancerous cells and have different side-effects. They are usually administered when a person isn’t responding to chemotherapy. Additionally, they can help increase the effectiveness of other metastatic breast cancer treatments.

To gauge the effectiveness of treatments, doctors will order for X-rays and other diagnostic tests to check if the tumor in the breast and in the other part of the body has shrunk, grown, or stayed the same.

Additional care and support
Dealing with metastatic breast cancer isn’t just physically overwhelming but also emotionally. So while one is getting the necessary treatment, their loved ones should take the measures that can help improve their state of mind. The following things mentioned below can be extremely useful to cope with the effects of the disease.

  • Nutrition and exercise
    Treatments can make one extremely fatigued and weak which is why it is vital that the patient eats well. Due to nausea and vomiting, it might be difficult to have proper meals, making it essential for caregivers to provide smaller meals at frequent intervals.
    Likewise, staying active can help patients remain strong. Walking, stretching, and simple yoga poses can reduce stress and tiredness, enabling them to sleep better.
  • Emotional support
    One can consider joining a support group for metastatic breast cancer. Sharing their worries with people who are in a similar situation can help patients cope better. If being in a support group feels impersonal, one can try talking to a professional therapist. Talking to friends and family and spending time with them can also help a lot. For some people, investing their time in a spiritual counselor can help them feel more connected to their emotions.