What is Metastatic Breast Cancer? Symptoms & Treatments

“Breast cancer” can be two of the scariest words for a woman to hear. But we now know so much more about this disease and can do so much more to combat it. The first thing all women can and should do is regularly check for lumps in their breasts because if they don’t, they could miss something potentially serious. For example, if breast cancer is not detected early, it can become metastatic stage 4 breast cancer, also referred to as advanced breast cancer. Metastatic Breast Cancer Awareness Day is on Oct. 13, so to help bring more awareness to this disease, we will go over the symptoms and treatment options. 

What Is Metastatic Breast Cancer?

When cancer cells spread, it is known as metastasis. So metastatic breast cancer is cancer that starts in the breast tissue and then spreads to other parts of the body, specifically to nearby lymph nodes. The cancer can also spread to other locations, like the bones, lungs, skin, brain, and other parts of the body.

illustration of a woman's body with red around the breast

Doctors can diagnose metastatic breast cancer generally by using an ultrasound exam, an MRI, blood samples, or a breast biopsy of cells or tissues.

Symptoms

The symptoms of metastatic breast cancer can be different from those of early-stage breast cancer, but not necessarily always. And sometimes stage 4 metastatic breast cancer can have no symptoms at all. But, in general, some of the most common signs that breast cancer has spread to other parts of the body are:

  • Bone pain or bone fractures due to tumor cells spreading to the bones or spinal cord
  • Headaches or dizziness when cancer has spread to the brain
  • Shortness of breath or chest pain, caused by lung cancer
  • Jaundice or stomach swelling

So, if breast cancer has spread to other parts of the body, your symptoms will usually vary depending on what part of the body the cancer has spread to. For example, if cancer has spread to the bones, you may experience pain, fractures, or decreased alertness due to high calcium levels. 

Treatment Options

Having stage 4 breast cancer might sound scary, and you might feel hopeless, but it is possible to treat it. When dealing with metastatic breast cancer, the treatment is based on systemic therapies, in which drugs are used rather than surgery or radiation. 

With systemic therapies, drugs can be used to try to shrink the tumors and slow their growth. Four different kinds of drug-based treatments can help:

  1. Hormone therapy– This type of treatment will block hormones, such as estrogen and progesterone, which help some types of breast cancers to grow. Blocking the hormones will slow down the cancer’s progression.

    bag of fluid in an IV
    Chemotherapy will help to attack the cancer cells in your body using aggressive drugs.
  2. Chemotherapy– Given through an IV over the course of several weeks, chemotherapy will help to attack the cancer cells in your body using aggressive drugs.
  3. Targeted drugs–  In addition to chemotherapy, there are also newer treatments that use targeted therapies to block types of proteins and gene mutations that help breast cancer grow. Targeted drugs are sometimes combined with chemotherapy or hormone therapy.
  4. Immunotherapies–  Also known as immune checkpoint inhibitors, these are helpful in stimulating the immune system to destroy cancer cells in certain types of breast cancers. 

Living With Metastatic Breast Cancer

It might not be easy to accept a stage 4 breast cancer diagnosis. All of the emotions and feelings you might be going through if you or a loved one have been diagnosed with it are completely normal. There are support groups that can help, or ask your doctor to refer you to a good therapist. 

In terms of your physical health, as you try different treatment options, it is important to try and eat a nutritious diet to feel stronger and tolerate the treatment. You can also try and exercise as much as you are able to, in order to boost your mind and body.

Additional Help

While dealing with all the emotions of a breast cancer diagnosis and all the physical effects of treatments, it’s very important to have comprehensive healthcare coverage. But before purchasing a health insurance plan, make sure you understand what coverage it offers, and make sure it will cover all of the medications and treatment you will need. If you’re not sure what plan is right for you, speak to an EZ agent! EZ agents are highly trained and knowledgeable and will sort through all available plans to make sure that you’re completely covered throughout the lengthy process of treating your cancer. 

We offer a wide range of health insurance plans from top-rated insurance companies in every state. And because we work with so many companies, and can offer all of the plans available in your area, we can find you a plan that saves you a lot of money – even hundreds of dollars – even if you don’t qualify for a subsidy. There is no obligation, or hassle, just free quotes on all available plans in your area. To get free instant quotes, simply enter your zip code in the bar above, or to speak to a local agent, call 888-350-1890.

C0-written by Minerva Landon

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