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The goal of treatment in metastatic breast cancer is to prevent or slow progression of the disease while easing your symptoms and treatment side effects.

Your healthcare team will be focused on enhancing your overall well-being while working to reduce the amount of cancer in your body.

When thinking about treatment, it may help to know:

  • Metastatic breast cancer is treatable but not curable.
  • Treatments sometimes may not seem as aggressive as those given for early-stage breast cancer. This is because early-stage treatment is short-term, and the goal is to get rid of all the cancer. Treatment for metastatic breast cancer looks to manage the disease over the long-term.
  • If you were treated for breast cancer in the past, you will often receive different medicine than you did for early-stage disease. The cancer cells may have built a resistance to those medicines. Or past treatments may be too toxic to your body to use more than once.
  • Your treatments may change over time as the cancer adapts and builds resistance to medicines. Usually, a treatment is used until the cancer grows or the side effects become too much. Then your healthcare team will suggest a new course of treatment.
  • It’s hard to predict how long a specific treatment may work in any person. Some treatments work for many years, while others need to be changed more often.
  • Many new FDA approved treatment options are available only to people with stage IV breast cancer. Your doctor can tell you about these treatments and whether they are available to you. Ask about clinical trials for metastatic breast cancer.

Taking treatment breaks

In some cases, you and your doctor can schedule treatment breaks for special events, like vacations or weddings. You may think about doing this if it will be hard to get treatment or the side effects may disrupt your life.

It’s possible to take treatment breaks just to give your body a rest from treatment and side effects. If you think you may need or want a treatment break, talk with your healthcare team as soon as you can.

Questions to ask about treatment

  • Can I get treatment through a clinical trial?
  • If a trial isn’t open here, can I go to a nearby site?
  • What are the benefits of the treatment?
  • What are the short-term side effects?
  • What are the long-term side effects?
  • How is the treatment given?
  • How long does it take to receive treatment?
  • What is the schedule for this treatment? What are “on” and “off” days”?
    • Which medicines will I get at which times?
  • Will this treatment make me feel sick and prevent me from enjoying daily activities?
  • What can I do to make sure I can continue to do the things I love while I take this treatment?
  • What side effects mean I should call you immediately?
  • Why do you believe this treatment is the best option for me?
  • If this treatment doesn’t work, or makes me feel too sick, what are my other options?

 

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Reviewed and updated: August 31, 2015

Reviewed by: Pallav K. Mehta MD

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Living Beyond Breast Cancer is a national nonprofit organization that seeks to create a world that understands there is more than one way to have breast cancer. To fulfill its mission of providing trusted information and a community of support to those impacted by the disease, Living Beyond Breast Cancer offers on-demand emotional, practical, and evidence-based content. For over 30 years, the organization has remained committed to creating a culture of acceptance — where sharing the diversity of the lived experience of breast cancer fosters self-advocacy and hope. For more information, learn more about our programs and services.

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