Metastatic breast cancer - Breast cancer advice
Metastatic breast cancer means the spread of cancer from its original location to another part of the body. Doctors talk about the cancer “metastasising” and refer to the spread of the disease in rather cumbersome terms such as “metastatic carcinoma”, “metastatic bone cancer” or “metastatic lung cancer” (hard enough to pronounce much less understand!). But women who actually have to live with the recurrence of their cancer tend to avoid this awkward medical terminology and talk about their “bone mets” or “lung mets”.
Whatever phraseology you use, the realisation that cancer has reared its terrifying head again in another part of your body will obviously come as a devastating shock. The news you never wanted to hear may come a few months after your initial diagnosis or many years later. And it may be accompanied by a prediction about your life expectancy.
Feelings of total disbelief, numbness, unreality and of being completely overwhelmed are entirely natural reactions to such news. Then comes the rage, the fury against God and the world and the need to scream about the injustice of it all. Deep depression often follows the anger and in many cases it’s only when all these exhausting emotions have been worked through that the ability to cope kicks in.
One thing that women who have been diagnosed with metastatic cancer find they desperately need is huge amounts of emotional support. You might find this support in a loving partner, family, friends, a local breast cancer group or maybe your local church. If you don’t have anyone close enough to pour your heart out to (or scream at!) you’ll find online forums are an invaluable source of information and moral support.
An excellent web site specifically for women with metastatic breast cancer is http://www.bcmets.org/. The site offers lots of factual information about the different types of metastases, symptoms and treatment options. And it’s a popular meeting place where women with breast cancer “mets” discuss their fears, feelings, ideas and treatment.
Take heart from the fact that researchers are continually coming up with new and more effective treatment for various types of metastatic breast cancer and that many women diagnosed with secondary cancer live long and productive lives.
The parts of the body most commonly affected by the spread of breast cancer cells are the bones, lungs, liver and brain. Treatment options will depend on the location and extent of the secondary cancer – they include chemotherapy, surgery, radiation, hormone therapy and intravenous treatment to boost the immune system.
In some cases of metastatic brain cancer, a small secondary tumour can be successfully treated with pioneering gamma knife radiation which involves a highly targeted radiation dose rather than radiation of the whole brain. There’s no incision and the procedure can be done with a local anaesthetic and sedative.
Metastases occur when the breast cancer cells spread through the blood or lymphatic system. So any area of the body can be affected including the digestive system, ovaries, eyes and stomach though these types of secondary cancer are less common.
The more unusual secondary cancers are more likely to go undetected so if you’re experiencing persistent pain, discomfort or anything out of the ordinary in any part of your body get it checked out. If you suspect your doctor is dismissing your concerns too lightly insist on being screened for secondary cancer. As one woman with metastatic breast cancer so aptly put it: “I’m the best protector of my own life”.