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Metastatic Breast Cancer FAQ

Metastatic breast cancer  is the type of cancer that starts in the breast and travels to other parts of the body such as the liver, lungs or bones. Also known as stage 4 breast cancer, metastatic breast cancer is not curable because we cannot eliminate all of the cells from the body.

However, even without curing the cancer, the care team at The University of Kansas Cancer Center can control metastatic breast cancer effectively for long periods of time and help improve your quality of life. Here, you can find answers to the most commonly asked questions we hear about metastatic breast cancer.

  • A. Metastasis is the medical term for cancer that spreads to a different part of the body from where it started and grows into a second mass. Metastasis may also be referred to as stage 4 cancer. Metastatic cancer has the same name as the primary cancer. For example, if breast cancer spreads to the bone, it’s called metastatic breast cancer, not bone cancer.

  • A. Yes, all types of breast cancer have the potential to metastasize. About 15% to 30% of breast cancers metastasize, based on the type of breast cancer.

  • A. There are several factors, including stage and subtype of breast cancer. Some factors that increase risk of metastasis include being diagnosed with aggressive subtypes like triple-negative breast cancer, presence of cancer in multiple lymph nodes and an Oncotype DX score (recurrence score) of over 25 for hormone-positive breast cancers. Another factor is how quickly or slowly the cancer is mutating.

  • A. Earlier breast cancer screening techniques, like mammograms, can increase the likelihood of detecting cancer before spreading, which can help improve your response to treatment. Nothing can prevent metastasis, but early detection can tilt the balance toward not developing metastases.

  • A. Treatments vary based on the type of breast cancer and degree of spread. Treatments include endocrine therapy, targeted therapy, chemotherapy, HER2 targeted drugs, PARP inhibitors and more. There are also emerging immunotherapy options based upon stimulating the immune system to attack the tumor.

    Clinical trials are another option. A clinical trial can offer you the chance to try a new treatment and possibly benefit from it. Clinical research trials test promising new anticancer agents earlier in the course of metastatic disease, providing more options for those who take part. Learning that a new drug is better than standard treatments may also help others.

  • A. It’s important to know what types of breast cancer your doctor specializes in. Every case of breast cancer is unique and complex. Ask your doctor if there are any clinical trials available. It’s also important to share with your doctor any other drugs you are taking, even over-the-counter drugs and supplements.

  • A. A second opinion is a valuable resource for every cancer patient. It’s an important way to ask questions about your condition and explore your treatment options. Getting a second opinion doesn’t mean you think the first diagnosis is wrong or that you doubt your doctor. In fact, a second opinion may offer you peace of mind by confirming your original diagnosis. You can then feel confident moving forward with your recommended course of treatment.

  • A. Yes. Only decades ago, very few metastatic breast cancer patients lived past 5 years. MBC still has a high mortality rate and currently can’t be cured, but with advances in research and treatment, more people are living longer and thriving.

  • A. Researchers are looking at more targeted therapies, which help block the growth and spread of cancer by targeting specific molecules. Targeted therapy is different from chemotherapy in that it goes after certain cancer cells. This approach may help limit side effects that can be caused by other therapies. Liquid biopsies (analysis of tumors from a blood draw) are a new, less invasive way to gather information about the tumor to guide treatments and assess risk.

  • A. Turning Point, a program of The University of Kansas Health System, offers a place for people to meet, listen, share, learn and encourage one another. Turning Point offers classes, programs and activities to both patients and their families. It’s important to have a strong support system. There are many organizations available, including groups like Metavivor. You can find more support options on our support services page.

  • A. With improved understanding of metastatic breast cancer, we anticipate seeing a more personalized approach for treatment. We have already made great strides in treatment. More people are living and thriving beyond diagnosis. It’s taken a while to get here, but it’s been an improvement and educational. We are continuing to move in a positive direction.

I saw too many young women die of metastatic breast cancer, despite seemingly early detection or aggressive therapy after diagnosis. That is why I founded the Breast Cancer Prevention Center at The University of Kansas Cancer Center. –Carol Fabian, MD

Breast medical oncologist

Start your path today.

Your journey to health starts here. Call 913-588-1227 or request an appointment at The University of Kansas Cancer Center.

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