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Stage 4 breast cancer: What you need to know

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When cancer spreads to distant organs, tissue, or lymph nodes, it is classified as stage 4 breast cancer. Stage 4 breast cancer is often known as advanced cancer, secondary breast cancer, or metastatic breast cancer by healthcare experts.

Symptoms differ depending on where the cancer has spread. Treatment for stage 4 breast cancer attempts to keep the cancer under control, reduce symptoms, and provide the best possible quality of life for the patient.

This article goes through the signs and symptoms of stage 4 breast cancer, as well as the outlook and treatment choices.

Stage 4 breast cancer

Stage 4 breast cancer

Stage 4 breast cancer develops when cancerous cells migrate beyond the breast and nearby lymph nodes to other parts of the body.

Breast cancer most usually spreads to the lungs, liver, and bones, according to the American Cancer Society (ACS). It can potentially spread to other organs like as lymph nodes, skin, and the brain.

Stage 4 breast cancer can be diagnosed as either a new case (de novo) or a recurrence of a previous case (recurrence).

Rates of survival

The Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results (SEER) Program database is used by the American Cancer Society to track 5-year relative survival rates.

A relative survival rate estimates how long a person with a certain ailment will survive after obtaining a diagnosis in comparison to those who do not have the condition.

If the 5-year relative survival rate is 70%, it signifies that a person with the ailment has a 70% chance of living for 5 years as someone who does not have the condition.

According to the American Cancer Society, the 5-year relative survival rate for stage 4 breast cancer is 28% for women and 22% for men.

The type of breast cancer a person has can also affect the 5-year relative survival rate. For example, the 5-year survival rate for a person with triple-negative breast cancer is 12%, and it is 19% for those with inflammatory breast cancer.

According to the American Cancer Society, survival statistics are dependent on a number of criteria but do not account for every facet of a person’s health and well-being.

The following are some aspects that survival rates do not consider:

  • the person’s age and overall health
  • the size of the tumor
  • the cancer’s response to treatment
  • the cancer’s HER2 status
  • the presence of hormone receptors on cancer cells
  • new treatment options that improve the long-term outlook

As a result, it’s essential to keep in mind that these figures are estimations. A person might inquire about how their disease is going to effect them from a healthcare practitioner.

Is it treatable?

Experts consider stage 4 breast cancer to be incurable, according to a 2016 report. Treatments, on the other hand, can assist to relieve symptoms, decrease the tumor, and extend survival time.

A person with stage 4 breast cancer should consult with a specialist to discover the best therapy choices for them.

Symptoms

The specific symptoms that a person may encounter depend on where the cancer is located.

The following are some examples of potential symptoms:

  • bone pain
  • issues with balance
  • weight loss
  • weakness anywhere throughout the body
  • a constant dry cough
  • confusion
  • loss of appetite
  • seizures
  • severe headaches
  • issues with vision
  • a constant state of nausea

Spread to bones

When breast cancer spreads to the bones, it can cause:

  • new and noticeable pain that comes and goes to begin with but becomes constant over time
  • fractures, which cause sudden and severe pain
  • back or neck pain
  • weakness and numbness
  • difficulty urinating
  • difficulty passing bowel movements
  • fatigue
  • nausea
  • weakness
  • loss of appetite
  • dehydration

Spread to brain

Symptoms related to cancer that spread to the brain include:

  • headaches
  • memory problems
  • seizures
  • changes in personality and mood
  • stroke
  • slurred speech
  • blurred vision
  • dizziness
  • issues with balance

Spread to liver

When breast cancer spreads to the liver, it can cause symptoms such as:

  • fatigue
  • weakness
  • swelling in the legs
  • weight loss
  • lack of appetite
  • jaundice
  • abdominal pain

Spread to lungs

If breast cancer spreads to the lungs, a person may experience:

  • shortness of breath
  • a persistent cough
  • wheezing
  • coughing up blood and mucus
  • pain in the lung

Treatment 

Stage 4 breast cancer cannot be cured with treatment. The treatment’s goal is to:

  • slow down and control the growth of the cancer
  • relieve any symptoms
  • increase life expectancy and quality of life

Researchers are continually exploring for new ways to treat stage 4 breast cancer.

Currently, the most common treatments that doctors may recommend include:

Stage 4 breast cancer may take both a physical and emotional toll on a person. An important part of treatment is helping the person cope with the emotions and stress connected with the diagnosis.

Palliative care may also be an option. This sort of care gives an extra layer of assistance to people with serious diseases and their families. It helps treat physical and mental problems and can optimize the person’s quality of life while they live with advanced cancer.

Some potential approaches for mental health care include:

  • reaching out to family and friends
  • talking with a social worker
  • having regular meetings with a psychologist or psychiatrist
  • joining support groups

BreastCancer.org recommends obtaining professional and experienced counselors and workers wherever feasible. However, it also indicates that people who are having problems paying may wish to seek therapy through a psychologist training program or clinic.

Chance of remission and recurrence

When cancer goes into remission, tests that seek for cancer cannot detect it. A doctor may refer to this pathological complete response.

Treatment may also produce partial remission. This suggests that therapy has destroyed a portion of the cancer but that testing can still discover the cancer.

Stage 4 breast cancer will not go away completely. However, Breastcancer.org states that therapy can help manage the cancer for years. It states that the cancer might be aggressive at times and go into remission at other times.

Because stage 4 breast cancer is not treatable, it will not vanish and then resurface.

Conclusion

Having stage 4 breast cancer indicates that cancer cells from the breast tissue have spread to distant areas of the body.

Signs and symptoms might vary dependent on where the cancer has progressed to. However, they may include bone discomfort, unexplained weight loss, lack of appetite, and severe headaches, among others.

Stage 4 breast cancer is not currently treatable. However, certain treatment methods can delay the spread of the cancer, reduce the symptoms, and prolong survival.

Sources

  • https://www.breastcancer.org/symptoms/types/recur_metast/metastic/bone
  • https://www.breastcancer.org/symptoms/types/recur_metast/metastic/brain
  • https://www.cancer.org/cancer/breast-cancer.html
  • https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/stage-4-breast-cancer
  • https://www.breastcancer.org/symptoms/types/recur_metast/metastic/liver
  • https://www.breastcancer.org/symptoms/types/recur_metast/metastic/lung
  • https://www.breastcancer.org/symptoms/types/recur_metast/living_metast/mental-healthcare
  • https://www.breastcancer.org/symptoms/types/recur_metast
  • https://www.breastcancer.org/symptoms/types/recurrent
  • https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5844269/

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