Metastatic breast cancer, otherwise known as Stage IV or advanced stage breast cancer, is not a specific type of breast cancer, but rather the most advanced stage of breast cancer. This is a cancer that has spread beyond the breast to other organs in the body, such as the bones, lungs, liver, or brain.
Typically, metastatic breast cancer arises months or years after an individual has been treated for an earlier stage breast cancer. Only 6 percent of people diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer have not been previously diagnosed with breast cancer.
Although metastatic breast cancer is considered incurable, there are many treatment options that focus on slowing the progression of the cancer and maintaining quality of life.
Hormone therapy drugs stop cancer cells from getting the estrogen they need to grow. They are typically the first treatment for hormone receptor-positive metastatic breast cancers. Most hormone therapy drugs come in pill form, though some are injected. Both men and women with metastatic breast cancer may be candidates for hormone therapy.
The type of hormone therapy drug chosen will depend on several factors, including past use of hormone therapy and, for women, the individual’s menopausal status. If the cancer stops responding to one hormonal therapy medicine, another may be tried.
Side effects of hormone therapy vary depending on the drug, but may include bone or joint pain, nausea, vomiting, fatigue, and headaches, among others. They almost always include hot flashes.
Chemotherapy may be used if the metastatic breast cancer is hormone receptor-negative or if it has stopped responding to hormone therapy. As with hormone therapy, if the cancer stops responding to one chemotherapy drug, another (or a combination of others) may be tried. This is called a “line” of treatment. It is not uncommon for people to get four or more lines of chemotherapy regimens over the course of their treatment.
Some chemotherapy drugs are given in pill form, while others are administered through an IV. Side effects vary but may include memory loss (or “chemo brain”), fatigue, hair loss, diarrhea, nausea, and weight loss, among others.
Local treatments, such as radiation or surgery, will not address the spread of cancer cells throughout the body, so they are not the main form of treatment for metastatic breast cancer. However, local treatments may still be used to control the cancer in a specific area, ease pain, or lower the risk of a cancer-weakened bone breaking.
Side effects of radiation typically include skin reactions similar to a sunburn, with itching, burning, soreness, and possible peeling. Recovery from surgery will depend on how invasive the surgery is. A lumpectomy, for example, can be done on an outpatient basis, while a mastectomy will require a hospital stay. Most people are able to resume normal activities a few weeks after surgery.
At Fifth Season Financial, we understand that the high costs of cancer treatment can be challenging for many families. That’s why we created the Funds for Living and Giving (FLAG) program, which allows individuals who are diagnosed with advanced stage illness to access funds from their life insurance policy while maintaining funds for beneficiaries to receive in the future. Learn more by contacting Fifth Season at (866)899-2330 for a free consultation or by filling out a form.
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