WHAT IS METASTATIC BREAST CANCER?
Also classified as Stage 2, 3 or IV breast cancer, metastatic breast cancer means that the cancer has spread to other parts of the body, typically in the bones, brain, liver or lungs. (Note: The stage will depend on how may organs have been affected.)
[mətas′təsis] pl. metastases
Etymology: Gk, meta + stasis, standing
1 an active process by which tumor cells move from the primary location of a cancer by severing connections from the original cell groupand establishing remote colonies. Because malignant tumors have no enclosing capsule, cells may escape, become emboli, and betransported by the lymphatic circulation or the bloodstream to implant in lymph nodes and other organs far from the primary tumor.
2 a tumor that develops away from the site of origin. Compare anaplasia. metastasize, v.
[ Mosby’s Medical Dictionary, 8th edition. © 2009, Elsevier ]
HOW DOES CANCER METASTASIZE?
Cancer can spread in one or more of the following ways:
- Cancer cells penetrate the lymph or circulatory system:Cancer cells travel through the walls of nearby lymph vessels or blood vessels.
- New, smaller tumors grow – called ‘micrometastases’:Cancer cells form small tumors at the new location.
- Cancer cells invade healthy cells that are nearby:Once a healthy cell is taken over, it can also replicate more abnormal cells.
- Cancer cells become lodged in capillaries:Cancer cells become lodged (‘stuck’) in capillaries at a certain distance away from the original cancer site, and migrate into the surrounding tissue.
- Migration through circulation: The blood stream and lymph system carry cancer cells to other parts of the body.
When you are diagnosed with breast cancer and have gone through treatment, regular follow-up is very important as this process ensures that if there were to be metastases, they will be picked up sooner rather than later; this will ensure early onset of 2nd line treatment . The new developments in treating advanced breast cancer make it possible to live long, productive lives despite the fact that you have advanced illness.
Make sure you understand the intent of treatment when your oncologist discusses this with you. Always ask questions about the impact this will have on your quality of life — only then making your decision to have the treatment or not.