There are many effective treatments for metastatic breast cancer. These treatments fall into three main types:
- systemic (whole-body) treatment for cancer cells throughout the body
- local treatment for a specific metastasis that is causing problems
- pain relief
You may know of only one place where the cancer has spread to. But once there is one site of spread, it is likely that the cancer is growing in other places. The cancer is so small in that area that you don't yet feel any symptoms, and it doesn't show up on X-ray tests. Surgery at this point may not be a good treatment choice for the known area of cancer because it's unlikely to get rid of the whole problem completely. So if you have one or a few metastases, your doctor will probably recommend a whole-body treatment aimed at all the cancer cells in your body. This treatment may include:
- hormonal therapy
- targeted therapies such as Herceptin (chemical name: trastuzumab) and Avastin (chemical name: bevacizumab)
- new experimental (investigational) treatments given to participants in clinical studies to see how well these treatments work
- complementary/integrative therapies
But you may need treatment that works fast to take care of a dangerous problem, such as reducing the risk of bone breaks from areas weakened by cancer, cancer spread to the brain, and spinal cord damage from cancer putting pressure on it. Moving ahead quickly with local forms of treatment, such as radiation, is more important than waiting for systemic therapy to kick in. So your doctor will need to find one or a combination of treatments that will fix this problem right away. Treatment is aimed at the specific threatening metastasis, and may include one or more of these options:
- surgery to relieve pressure on tissues or to stabilize a broken bone
You may also be given pain-relieving medicines until systemic therapy starts to relieve your symptoms. Pain relievers can also make you comfortable if the cancer does not respond to whole-body treatments. If you have developed bone metastases, your doctor may add bone-building drugs over time.
The next page describes problems that require immediate, local treatment. After that you'll find information on systemic treatments for metastatic breast cancer, and pain relief therapies.