13 October 2016
The 13th of October is designated for metastatic breast cancer awareness. Metastatic, or Stage IV breast cancer, is when the cancer has spread outside of the breast or underarm lymph nodes. The most common sites of spread are the bones, liver, lung and brain. Later stage of disease at the time of diagnosis is a risk factor, as is aggressive tumor biology. However, anyone who has been treated for breast cancer has the potential to develop metastatic disease. Metastatic disease can develop at any point after treatment – even many years later. Approximately 6% of newly diagnosed breast cancer patients have metastatic disease when their original cancer is found.
The roughly 40,000 women and 400 men who die from breast cancer every year in the United States die from metastatic breast cancer. Patients who develop metastatic disease are on some form of treatment (chemotherapy, hormonal therapy, targeted agents, or a combination of medications) for life. Radiation therapy and surgery may also be used as part of treatment. In patients with metastatic disease, the focus shifts from potential cure of cancer to controlling areas of cancer growth and managing side effects related to treatment and disease progression. Treatments have improved considerably and many women and men with metastatic breast cancer are living longer than ever, but there is no cure.
During Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and all year, it is important to remember that early detection does not prevent spread. More aggressive surgery does not prevent spread. Take a few minutes to become educated about the breast cancer that kills, and consider supporting research that is trying to find answers.