Metastatic breast disease is breast cancer that has not just come back, but has made its way through the bloodstream and spread to other organs of the body, such as the bones, liver, or brain. Cancer spread may be present at first diagnosis or after recurrence. Many women can live for years with metastatic cancer that's under control. For these women, living with a diagnosis of metastatic breast cancer is like living with a chronic disease. It can go into remission, be active sometimes and not others, or move quickly. It frequently involves trying one treatment after another, ideally with breaks in between treatments when you feel good. The goal of treatment is to help you feel as well as possible and live a longer life.
No one can tell you how long you will live with metastatic disease. That's because every woman's experience is different. Some women live for more than a decade. Others live for just a few seasons. But new and more effective treatments keep being developed. This means that you may do much better today with metastatic disease than someone who had it only a few years ago.
In this phase of breast cancer, the treatment goal is to extend life as long as possible with the best QUALITY of life possible. This means relieving symptoms and putting cancer into remission with the fewest side effects.
Metastatic breast cancer responds best if:
- The cancer has not spread to any organs, such as the liver, lung, and brain.
- If it has spread throughout the body, no more than three organs or parts of the body are involved (the fewer the better).
- Estrogen and/or progesterone hormone receptors are present in these cancer cells.
- There's no evidence that the tumor has stopped responding (become resistant) to hormonal therapy, Herceptin (chemical name: trastuzumab), or chemotherapy.
- You haven't already had many different kinds of therapy or many rounds of treatment.
But even if you don't have these encouraging signs, many treatments are available to you. Many women can live for years even without these signs.
If the fear of cancer keeps you from moving forward, enjoying life, being with loved ones, laughing, then the cancer won, even if it never comes back. But if you reclaim your life, then even if the cancer comes back, it didn't win, because YOU, the PERSON, survived.
Lisa Weissmann, M.D.