Some Women May Benefit from Surgery to Remove Breast Cancer That Has Spread to Liver

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Metastatic breast cancer is cancer that has spread to areas of the body away from the breast. The bones are a common place for metastatic breast cancer. Breast cancer also sometimes metastasizes to the brain, the liver, or both. Metastatic breast cancer is treatable, but usually not curable. Chemotherapy, hormonal therapy, and/or targeted therapy all can be treatment options for metastatic breast cancer. Surgery to remove the metastases is not common; surgery is done sometimes to ease symptoms or to slow the cancer's growth.

A small study suggests that some women can benefit from surgery to remove breast cancer that has metastasized to the liver.

The researchers looked at the medical records of 80 women who had surgery to remove breast cancer liver metastases. Half the women had more than 5 years of follow-up after surgery; the other women had shorter follow-up periods. Overall, the women lived nearly 5 years after surgery (overall survival). The women lived about 14 months without signs of the cancer growing (progression-free survival).

The researchers wanted to know the cancer characteristics associated with longer survival after surgery to remove liver metastases. They found:

  • women with hormone-receptor-positive cancers lived much longer after surgery than women with hormone-receptor-negative cancers (77 months compared to 28 months)
  • women who had some response to chemotherapy before surgery lived much longer after surgery than women who didn't respond to chemotherapy (79 months compared to 29 months)
  • women in whom the cancer grew between liver metastases diagnosis and surgery to remove the metastases (preoperative progression) lived for less time after surgery than women who didn't have preoperative progression (23 months compared to 79 months)

It's important to notice that this study didn't compare outcomes of women who had surgery to remove liver metastases to women with liver metastases who didn't have surgery. The main focus of the study was to figure out which women benefited most from the surgery.

Even though almost all metastatic breast cancer isn't curable, surgery to remove liver metastases to improve survival may make sense in some women with cancers that have the characteristics found in this study.

If you've been diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer that has spread to the liver, you might want to talk to your doctor about this study and the benefits and risks of surgery in your unique situation. Together, you and your doctor can decide on a treatment plan that makes the most sense for you based on the characteristics of the cancer and your personal preferences.

In the Breastcancer.org Treatments for Metastatic Cancer pages, you can learn more about options for managing metastatic breast cancer.

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