Living with Metastatic Disease
Metastatic breast cancer (also called stage IV or advanced breast cancer) is breast cancer that has spread beyond the breast to other organs in the body (most often the bones, lungs, liver or brain). Both women and men can be diagnosed with MBC.
In the U.S., it is not common to have metastatic breast cancer when you are first diagnosed (called de novo metastatic breast cancer). Most often, it develops when the cancer returns at some point after the initial breast cancer diagnosis and treatment.
For those who are diagnosed with early stage breast cancer, there is always a risk that at some point after an initial diagnosis, the breast cancer can recur or metastasize. This risk varies from person to person and depends greatly on the biology of the tumor and stage at the time of original diagnosis and how the cancer was treated.
The main goals of treatment for MBC are to control tumor growth and prolong life while also maintaining quality of life. Treatment is highly personalized. More than with other stages of breast cancer, personal choice guides treatment. Together with your doctor, you can find the balance of treatment and quality of life that is right for you.
Your treatment plan is guided by many factors, including:
- Characteristics of the cancer cells (such as hormone receptor status and HER2/neu status)
- Where the cancer has spread
- Your current symptoms
- Breast cancer treatments you had in the past
- Your age and general health.
Talk with your doctors about your treatment choices. What do they recommend and why? What are the side effects of each treatment?
If your medical center does not offer clinical trials, you may want to get a referral to a cancer center that offers clinical trials of new metastatic breast cancer treatments.
In addition, BreastCancerTrials.org in collaboration with Susan G. Komen offers a custom matching service to help you find a clinical trial for people with metastatic breast cancer.
People with metastatic breast cancer should talk with their oncologists about clinical trials. But like all aspects of cancer care, the decision to join a clinical trial is a very personal one.