Dealing with Advanced Breast Cancer
Advanced breast cancer is also referred to as metastatic breast cancer or Stage IV breast cancer. The word metastasis means it has spread beyond the breast and lymph nodes to other parts of the body, most often bone, liver, lung or brain. You might be told when you are first diagnosed with breast cancer that it has advanced to Stage IV or your might have a recurrence, in which you find the cancer has spread.
The outlook or prognosis for advanced cancer used to be grim. Nowadays, there are around 155,000 people in the US living with advanced breast cancer. There are treatment options, and new ones are emerging all the time thanks to clinical trials and the people willing to participate in them.
You might feel you don’t want to be a ‘guinea pig’, but every new treatment that is discovered can prolong life and lead to the hope that something even better might become available to halt the progress of metastatic cancer.
Spread, but not growing
The other thing to remember is that cancer can spread, but it does not always grow. This means that it will not always progress to the point of severe damage to the liver and so on.
The type of cancer counts
The type of cancer you have will be an important piece of the puzzle. Some cancers are dependent upon hormonal activity. If you suppress the hormones, chances are you can suppress the disease. In this case, the hormones are estrogen (ER+) and progesterone (PR+).
Another type of cancer response to the protein HER-2, so it is labelled HER-2 positive cancer, or HER-2+.
But some women have triple negative cancer, that is, ER-, PR- and HER-2-. This type of cancer will not respond to hormonal treatment but it will respond to chemotherapy.
Treatment and Outlook
In the case of advanced cancer, the goal is not to treat it but to slow the progression of the disease and try to maintain as high a quality of life as possible for as long as possible. It is treatable, but not curable. Depending on which treatments you have already had, your doctor might recommend more of the same, or new treatments you haven’t tried yet. These will depend on your age and overall health.
You might qualify for a clinical trial depending on past treatments you might have had. Visit https://clinicaltrials.gov to see what trials are enrolling.
Palliative care can be defined as specialized medical care for a person with a serious illness. It is often associated with end of life care, but it can be given at any time due to the body-mind-spirit dimension of the care.