Cancer Education

Metastatic Breast Cancer: Signs and Symptoms

Metastatic Breast Cancer: Signs and Symptoms

Metastatic breast cancer is also referred to as stage IV breast cancer. This means that the cancerous cells have stopped being localized in the breast and have travelled to other cells of the body. When the cancerous cells metastasize, they travel to the bones, liver, brain or even lungs. This compounds the problem of treatment as it is not as easy to target the cancerous cells. There is limited awareness on metastatic breast cancer and more needs to be done for the general public to understand this condition that is increasingly affecting the population, women and men alike.

One of the harsh realities of metastatic breast cancer is that it has no known cure yet.  The cancerous cells that develop in this instance differ from the primary cancerous cells that were seen in earlier stages of cancer. These cells have changed in their morphology and have shown resistance to forms of treatment used in cancer such as chemotherapy and radiotherapy. When metastatic breast signs show, treatment used will still follow the breast cancer treatment regime, even when the cancerous cells have travelled to other parts of the body. Whether the cells move to the lungs, bones or even brain, the treatment will follow the breast cancer recommended one.

Various people are diagnosed with stage IV breast cancer at their first visit to the doctor and others see this condition as a reoccurrence of the cancer after various rounds of treatment. For people where the cancer is reoccurring, it may be seen after a few months or years from the last treatment point. It is for this reason why early diagnosis is recommended as it makes treatment much easier and prevents the cells from metastasizing.

The symptoms of the breast cancer vary from the area that the cancer has spread to. In most cases, the breast cancer sign seen is being tired than usual, one having a poor appetite, feeling under the weather and low energy levels.

In cancer that has spread to the lymph nodes, the common breast cancer sign is often a firm and painless swelling which may spread the swell into the arm. This is because the lymph nodes are swollen and fluid drainage is impeded.  When there is spread to the bone, the common breast cancer sign is an ache in the bone which may make movement difficult and sleeping may need one to take pain killers. Cancerous cells in the bone tend to damage the bone cells and this is the reason why the pain is present and as the cells digest the bone, the more painful it is to walk or even move the affected bone. Other common breast cancer signs that have been recorder include nausea, constipation, thirst, irritability and confusion.

In the case of the liver, the most common breast cancer sign is jaundice. This refers to a yellowing of the eyes as a result of buildup of bile in the body. The skin also becomes itchy as the liver is not performing as it should. When breast cancer metastasizes in the lungs, the primary signs shown is a cough and breathlessness. This is because the cells tend to irritate the linings around the lungs, causing a discomfort when breathing.

In cases where the cancerous cells end up in the brain, the most common breast cancer sign is headaches. Occasionally, some patients report feeling sick. The part of the brain controlling a particular area that is affected by the cancer may also not work well. This is reported by most people by feeling a numb feeling on one side of the body or on the leg or hand. Memory may also start to be affected, where important dates and events start fading off. In rare cases, the eyes are affected mainly as a result of a hormonal imbalance caused by the cancerous cells.

It is important to note that most of the metastasis can be controlled but it is quite important that they be noted as early as possible. In such cases, there is a high risk of targeting the cancer while localized in one area as opposed to when it spreads to different regions of the body.  Having a candid talk with your oncologist lets you understand how the cancer spreads and the place that it has spread to as well as the treatment options. It is also very important to try and understand the side effects of all the treatment options available so that you can make informed decisions. In most cases, the treatment options available include chemotherapy, hormone therapy as well as radiotherapy and targeted therapy. Surgery is rarely an option as in the case of metastatic cancer, the cancerous cells have affected multiple organs in the body. If surgery is recommended, it is done so as to recommend the size of the tumor