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Metastatic Breast Cancer


What is metastatic breast cancer?

Metastatic Breast Cancer (MBC) is breast cancer that has left the breast and local area around the breast and has been found in other parts of the body. Although MBC is not curable, with current advances in treatment, it is now often considered a chronic disease—one that may be treated on an ongoing basis and lived with for years. MBC is also called “stage IV” breast cancer or “mets.” It is also often referred to as “advanced breast cancer,” although they are not the same. MBC is advanced breast cancer, but advanced breast cancer can also refer to some stage III cancers that are not MBC.

Where can breast cancer spread, and what symptoms should I watch for?

Breast cancer has the potential to spread to almost any region of the body. The most common region breast cancer spreads to is the bone, followed by lung and liver. Anything unusual that lasts more than two weeks or is severe should be checked out. Symptoms of metastatic breast cancer may include:

  • Bone pain
  • A persistent dry cough that continues for an extended period
  • Shortness of breath
  • Lack of appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Neurological pain or weakness, headaches

While these symptoms may be possible signs of metastasis to the bone, lung, liver or other parts of the body, this does not mean that every woman who experiences them has metastatic breast cancer. There can be a variety of other reasons why you might experience the above symptoms, and they may have nothing to do with cancer of any kind. The important thing is that you listen and pay attention to what your body is trying to tell you and that you seek medical help to determine what may be causing your particular symptom or condition.

How do doctors test for metastatic disease?

There are several tests used to detect metastatic disease:

  • Bone scans
  • Chest x-ray
  • CAT scan
  • MRI scan
  • PET scan
  • Blood tests/tumor marker tests – Measure markers found in the blood that can be followed over time. Two such markers for breast cancer are CEA and CA 15-3. These markers tend to be elevated in women with metastatic breast cancer.

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