Cancer in itself is a traumatizing phase in anyone’s life. However, it is more painful when the cancer recurs after the treatment. Cancer recurrence happens due to many reasons. Metastasis is one of those.
About Metastatic Breast Cancer
Sometimes, the cancer spreads to the other parts of the body which are far from the spot where it originated. When breast cancer metastasizes, it is also classified as Stage 4 breast cancer. It usually spreads to the the lungs, liver, bones or brain. Metastasis is the name of the process by which cancer spreads to the other parts. The chances of metastasis are most amongst breast cancer. The risk of metastatic cancer varies from person to person. Even though cancer spreads to other parts of the body, it is still treated as the original cancer. i.e. breast cancer spread to the lungs will still be considered and treated as breast cancer, not lung cancer.
How does cancer metastasize?
Cancer usually metastasizes or spreads through one or more of the steps mentioned below-
- Cancer cells invade healthy cells around them.
When the healthy cell is taken over by the cancer cells, it can replicate more abnormal cells and spread the cancer.
- Cancer cells penetrate into the circulatory system.
Cancer cells travel through the walls of nearby lymph vessels or blood vessels. Sometimes, they get carried by the lymph system and the bloodstream to other parts of the body and it causes harm.
- Cancer cells get stuck in capillaries.
Sometimes, cancer cells stop moving as they are lodged in capillaries at a distant location. There, they get divided then migrate into the surrounding tissue.
- Micro metastases.
Micro metastases are the small tumors formed by cancer cells at the new location. This might make cancer cells spread.
Symptoms of Metastatic Breast Cancer
The symptoms of metastatic breast cancer vary depending on how far the breast cancer has spread and what type of tissue the new cancer growth has invaded. These symptoms may also vary depending on where the cancer has spread to.
Here are some common symptoms of breast cancer metastasis according to the various locations in the body.
Metastasis to the bone:
- Bones that are more easily fractured or broken
- Severe, progressive pain
Metastasis to the brain:
- Persistent, progressively worsening headache or pressure to the head
- Vision disturbances
- Vomiting or nausea
- Behavioral or personality changes
Metastasis to the liver:
- Itchy skin or rash
- Abnormally high enzymes in the liver
- Abdominal pain, appetite loss, nausea, and vomiting
Metastasis to the lungs:
- Chronic cough or inability to get a full breath
- Abnormal chest X-ray
- Chest pain
Apart from the above, other nonspecific systemic symptoms of metastatic breast cancer include fatigue, weight loss, and poor appetite.
If these symptoms are noticed in the breast cancer patient, be sure you talk with your physician.
Treatment of metastatic breast cancer is guided by many factors like characteristics of the cancer cells, location where the cancer has spread, its symptoms, and treatments used in past. This treatment is highly personalized and depends on the characteristics of cancer and tolerance of the patient. Side effects are also taken into consideration.
Today, many advanced treatments are available for metastatic breast cancer. Even though the treatments might not guarantee to cure the cancer completely, they definitely help to control it.