Metastatic breast cancer in a nutshell

Advanced or stage IV breast cancer is termed as metastatic breast cancer. This is when the cancer  spreads from the breast to other organs of the body such as the lungs, brain, or even the bones. Although the cancer has spread to the bones and the lungs, the treatment is still carried out by the same breast cancer killing drugs. It has been estimated that over 250,000 women in the U.S are diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer annually. Another noteworthy feature of the metastatic breast cancer is that it occurs in people who have once undergone full treatment for the other three stages of cancer (1, 2 or 3). The people who fully recover from breast cancer can also get diagnosed with the metastatic version after a few months or years of their treatment. This phenomenon is called distant recurrence.

Symptoms of metastatic breast cancer
Metastasis is all about the spreading of cancer cells. Metastatic breast cancer signs are not only localized to the breasts but affect the parts of the body (which are possibly infected) as well.  Most common symptom can be diagnosed upon self-examination. These may include lumps visible on the surface of the breasts or in your underarm, nipple discharge (the process of discharge of fluid from the nipples) when pressed or not, bone pain and fractures, decrease in stamina, cough, extreme fatigue, etc. Some people also experience Increased abdominal girth (this is a measurement of the distance around your abdomen), swollen feet and hands, memory loss, headaches, blurry vision, and the like.

Metastatic breast cancer treatments
Metastatic breast cancer can be treated by one or a combination of the following treatments.

Anti-estrogen treatment
Also known as endocrine treatment, this treatment includes, SERM (Selective Estrogen Receptor Modulators). These compounds hinder estrogen from stimulating cells of the breasts. This is carried out by ingesting a pill orally. Side effects include hot flashes and uterine bleeding.

Aromatase inhibitors
These are agents which reduce the estrogen levels by blocking the protein that’s responsible for estrogen secretion inside the ovaries. Side effects include bone loss and bone fractures.

Pure anti-estrogen
These compounds block the impact of estrogen on the cancer-affected breast cells. These compounds are injected monthly. Side effects include hot flashes and pain at the injected site.

Sex steroid hormones
These include estrogens, progestins, and androgens. These agents are employed only in the third or fourth line of treatment.

Chemotherapy
This is the process of slowing down the growth of cancer cells. It’s done in a cyclic manner. A cycle is the amount of time required to carry out the procedure and letting the body recover from the side effects of the drugs used. A typical cycle lasts from three to four weeks.

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