Just Diagnosed With Secondary Breast Cancer
Secondary breast cancer occurs when cancerous cells from breast spread to other parts of the body. The tumor cells become metastatic and spread through your blood or lymphatic system. Secondary breast cancer is also known as advanced breast cancer.
The spread of cancerous cells in the body indicates the cancer has advanced to stage 4.
Early Symptoms of Secondary Breast Cancer
If you experience certain uncommon or persistent symptoms, then you should consult your doctor on priority basis for its diagnosis. The National Breast Cancer Foundation (NBCF) indicates that signs and symptoms of stage 4 breast cancer depend on the extent to which the cancer has spread in the body.
The early symptoms of secondary breast cancer include:
- Feeling tried and lethargic
- Your appetite may decrease
- Constant nausea (feeling sick)
The general signs and symptoms of advanced breast cancer mainly depend upon the location of your metastatic cancer.
The symptoms are as follows:
- Weight loss
- Severe headache
- Your vision and speech is altered
- You may experience discomfort and swelling under your ribs or across your lower abdomen
- You may experience breathlessness
- A constant dry cough
- You may experience pain, bloating and tenderness in your abdomen
- Jaundice (your skin and eyes may turn pale yellow)
- Seizures and loss of balance
In some cases, patients may not experience any of these symptoms. If you experience any new, persisting symptoms which does not have a particular cause, then you should visit your doctor to help identify the underlying problem.
Where Does Secondary Breast Cancer Spread to?
Breast cancer usually spreads to lymph nodes, bone, liver, lungs and brain. In rare cases, the advanced breast cancer can even spread to your skin. The site of metastatic breast cancer leads to development of certain uneven symptoms associated with the organ.
Doctors have observed variability in the location of secondary breast cancer in different patients. The tumor can even spread to multiple locations in a patient, rather than to a single organ of their body. The secondary breast cancer life expectancy may also vary with the location of the cancer.
Diagnosis of Metastatic Breast Cancer
If you experience any early symptoms of secondary breast cancer, you should visit your doctor or a cancer care center. Your doctor may recognize the cause of your symptoms with the help of certain lab tests. The laboratory tests are as follows:
- Blood tests – It also includes tests to identify the presence of specific tumor markers in the body
- Whole body bone scan – The body scan will contain X-rays of specific bones of your body
- MRI of your spine or brain: This is usually done when the cancer has spread to your brain.
- A Computed Tomography(CT) scan of your chest, abdomen, pelvis and brain
- Positron emission tomography (PET) scan
- X-ray or ultrasound of your abdomen and chest region
- Biopsy of the affected region, depending upon the symptoms
- Removal of fluid from the affected region to identify if any tumor cells are present
Treatment of Advanced Breast Cancer
The preferred treatment methods to deal with advanced breast cancer are hormone therapy, chemotherapy, radiotherapy and biological therapy. In some cases, a doctor may prescribe a combination of these therapies. These methods kill cancerous cells and also provide relief from the symptoms of metastatic breast cancer. Doctors may not advice surgery as a treatment option in such cases.
It is quite difficult to decide which treatment option is suitable for advanced breast cancer treatment for a patient. The doctor considers several factors before deciding on a treatment plan. These may include:
- Treatment option suitable according to a patient’s medical condition
- Side effects of the therapy
- Affect of treatment on your overall quality of life
- Location of the secondary breast cancer
- Severity and size of the cancer
- Symptoms of the secondary breast cancer
- Treatment provided for primary breast cancer
- Particular characteristics of the secondary breast cancer
Secondary Breast Cancer Prognosis
Advanced breast cancer cannot be cured completely, but it can be treated. The symptoms can be maintained to provide relief and comfort to the patient. Doctors prescribe certain treatment methods to control cancer growth and its spread in the body, relieve the symptoms and maintain health and well being of the patient.
The University of Maryland Medical Center (UMMC) mentions that breast cancer is the second most significant cause of death after lung cancer. They state that women belonging to higher economic group have higher survival rate than those of lower economic groups.
In some cases, despite of treatment of metastatic breast cancer, there exist chances of its recurrence. The cancer may recur in next five years of when you had received your cancer treatment before.
If the cancer recurs in your operation scar or previously treated breast, it is known as local recurrence of the breast cancer. But if the cancer recurs in lymph nodes or near your neck, then it is referred to as regional recurrence of cancer.
Each individual is different. Therefore, the survival and secondary breast cancer prognosis of each patient may also vary. It is best to consult your doctor to understand individual factors which can affect your prognosis.
Secondary Breast Cancer: Life Expectancy
To determine the life expectancy of a secondary breast cancer patient is pretty complicated. There are several factors, such as progression of cancer and medical condition of the patient, which help in estimating their survival rate.
According to the American Cancer Society, only 22% of the patients suffering from secondary breast cancer can survive for five years after diagnosis of the cancer. Stage 4 breast cancer has the lowest survival rate as compared to other stages.
The life expectancy of a cancer patient is higher if the cancer is diagnosed at early stages and proper treatment is provided to the patient. With advancement in breast cancer treatment methods, the life expectancy of patients suffering from metastatic breast cancer has tremendously increased.
The calculation of secondary breast cancer life expectancy of a patient is a tedious task as there are various parameters which can affect the scenario. These factors include such as:
- Medical health of the patient
- Age of the patient
- The type of hormonal receptors present on your cancer cells
- Type of tissue that has become cancerous
Your outlook and attitude towards life and cancer