Breast cancer is one of the most common forms of cancer in women worldwide. Metastatic breast cancer, also known as stage IV or advanced breast cancer, occurs when cancer cells spread beyond the breast to other parts of the body such as the bones, lungs, liver, or brain. This occurs through the lymphatic system or bloodstream, allowing cancer cells to invade other areas of the body. Once cancer has metastasized, it is considered incurable, but it can often be managed with treatment.
Causes and Risk Factors
The exact causes of metastatic breast cancer are still under investigation, but several risk factors increase a person’s likelihood of developing this advanced stage of the disease:
- Age: Older women are more likely to develop metastatic breast cancer.
- Genetics: Inherited mutations in genes such as BRCA1 and BRCA2 can increase the risk.
- Hormone Receptor Status: Estrogen and progesterone receptor-negative tumors are more likely to metastasize.
- Tumor Characteristics: Larger tumors and those with a higher grade are more likely to spread.
- Previous Cancer History: A history of breast cancer or other cancers can increase the risk.
Metastatic breast cancer can manifest a wide range of symptoms, which may vary depending on the location of the metastases. Common symptoms include:
- Bone Pain: Bone metastases can cause severe pain and fractures.
- Shortness of Breath: Lung metastases may lead to difficulty breathing.
- Jaundice: Liver metastases can result in yellowing of the skin and eyes.
- Headaches: Brain metastases can cause headaches, vision changes, and seizures.
- Swelling: Lymph node involvement can lead to swelling in the armpit or neck.
- Fatigue: General fatigue and weakness are common due to the cancer’s impact on the body.
Diagnosing metastatic breast cancer typically involves a combination of imaging tests, such as CT scans, bone scans, PET scans, and MRI, along with biopsies to confirm the presence of cancerous cells in distant organs. Determining the extent of metastasis is crucial for developing an effective treatment plan.
Treatment for metastatic breast cancer aims to control the disease, alleviate symptoms, and improve the patient’s quality of life. The choice of treatment depends on various factors, including the type of breast cancer, the location and extent of metastasis, and the patient’s overall health. Common treatment options include:
- Systemic Therapy: This includes chemotherapy, hormone therapy, targeted therapy, and immunotherapy to target cancer cells throughout the body.
- Radiation Therapy: Used to manage symptoms and reduce the size of tumors in specific areas, such as the bones or brain.
- Surgery: In some cases, surgery may be considered to remove metastases or to stabilize bones affected by cancer.
Metastatic breast cancer is a formidable adversary, but advances in research and treatment options offer hope for improved outcomes and quality of life for those living with the disease. Early detection remains crucial, and ongoing research is essential to finding more effective treatments and, ultimately, a cure.
By Dr. Manjunath NML (Surgical Oncology), HCG Panda Cancer Hospital, Cuttack