Why metastatic breast cancer is different
You may have heard doctors or the media talk about breast cancer as a disease that can be treated and then ends. At the end of treatment for your first diagnosis, maybe you felt your experience was over. Perhaps your doctors mentioned the chance for recurrence, but it sounded unlikely.
There are many people who undergo treatment and never have to deal with cancer again. A metastatic breast cancer diagnosis is different because it means you will actively deal with breast cancer for the rest of your life.
Being diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer can happen to anyone, at any time. Even stage I cancer can become metastatic. And a woman with stage I disease can find out years after her original treatment ended that the cancer metastasized.
With metastatic breast cancer, there are several goals for your treatment:
- to shrink or weaken the cancer
- to manage your symptoms and side effects
- to prevent the cancer from spreading further.
Your doctors will make changes to your treatment as the cancer grows or spreads to new places in the body.
The main concern is choosing the treatment path that will get rid of tumors and outlying cancer cells in the most effective way. But you and your doctors may also want to think about what you are willing to try and what you aren’t, so that you continue living the way you want to live.
You and your doctors will talk about progression, the growth of tumors or spread of cancer, and regression, decreases in tumor size or the cancer’s reach. When one treatment stops working, you and your doctors will look at new options.
When talking with your doctor, explore the side effects of different treatments. Maintaining your usual daily activities and being able to participate in the things you enjoy are essential to your overall well-being.
With stage IV disease it’s difficult to fully remove cancer with surgery or medicine. New tumors may appear over time, or cells may stop responding to different treatments. While metastatic breast cancer is not considered curable, it’s possible to experience periods where tests show no evidence of disease, often called NED. While reaching NED may not always be possible, it’s likely that you will have periods when the cancer does not grow. This is called stable disease.