Health Care

Metastatic Breast Cancer Explained: What Happens When Cancer Spreads?

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October is one of the most beautiful months here in the mountains of Western North Carolina. The leaves start to change color, and temperatures are perfect to break out your Fall sweaters. But did you know that October is also breast cancer awareness month? And more specifically, October 13 is Metastatic Breast Cancer Awareness Day.

At AdventHealth Hendersonville we want to help keep you and the women in your life healthy, thriving, and safe. Here are some things to keep in mind regarding metastatic breast cancer.

What is Metastatic Breast Cancer?

According to the National Breast Cancer Foundation, metastatic breast cancer is breast cancer that has spread to other parts of the body, most often the bones, lungs, liver or brain. It’s also called stage 4 or advanced breast cancer. It happens when cancer cells travel from the original tumor via the lymphatic system or blood.

Christine Moore, DO

“It is still called breast cancer, even if it involves distant organs,” explains Christine Moore, DO, Medical Oncologist with AdventHealth Hematology Oncology Infusion Services Asheville, “because the tumor found in the distant organs looks like breast cancer under a microscope.”

Sometimes doctors can’t determine where cancer originated if it has already spread at the time of diagnosis. In this case, it would be called “cancer of unknown primary origin (CUP).”

Symptoms of Metastatic Breast Cancer

Metastatic breast cancer symptoms can vary depending on the cancer’s location and where it spreads, but symptoms may include:

  • Abdominal pain and/or bloating
  • Back, bone or joint pain that doesn’t go away
  • Chest pain
  • Confusion
  • Constant dry cough
  • Difficulty urinating
  • Frequent nausea and/or vomiting
  • Jaundice
  • Loss of appetite
  • Loss of balance
  • Numbness or weakness anywhere in your body
  • Seizures
  • Severe headaches and vision problems including blurry vision, double vision or vision loss
  • Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
  • Weight loss

Dr. Moore adds, “It is important that the patient meet with their providers for regular visits and age-appropriate cancer screening (including mammograms) and notify them if they develop new symptoms. It is also recommended that patients with a history of breast cancer follow a healthy lifestyle if possible. Some patients may require medication for a couple of years to help prevent breast cancer recurrence.”

Treatment for Metastatic Breast Cancer

Metastatic cancers don’t totally go away, even with treatment. Because of that, metastatic breast cancer is often thought of as a chronic illness that needs constant observation and treatment to improve patients' quality of life and extend their lives.

Even though metastatic breast cancer can’t be completely cured, treating it can:

  • Extend your life
  • Relieve symptoms
  • Shrink the tumor(s)
  • Slow the cancer’s growth

There are several different approaches to treating metastatic breast cancer. Every cancer is unique, and we can personalize your treatment plan based on your specific circumstances.

We treat the Whole You

In a perfect world, we would catch every cancer at its earliest stage when it’s most treatable, curing it so you don’t have to spare another thought following your recovery. But we understand that life doesn’t always work that way. Out of 3.8 million breast cancer survivors in the United States, about 168,000 are living with metastatic breast cancer.

Early detection is key to preventing the spread of breast cancer and having the highest chance of survival.

While it might not be possible to cure metastatic breast cancer, we are here to help you manage it, and support you to live life to the fullest.

“We have a great team made up of providers from multiple disciplines so we can support patients’ different needs while dealing with breast cancer,” Dr. Moore shares, “We tailor breast cancer treatment to each individual person.”

Let us care for you in body, mind and spirit. We’re in this together.

To learn more about our cancer care services at AdventHealth Hendersonville click here.

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