Metastatic breast cancer is another term used to describe stage 4 breast cancer. By this stage, cancer has also spread to other parts of the body, including the bones, liver, lungs, and the brain. Bring diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer can be overwhelming. After the diagnosis, cancer treatment is likely to consume all your time including your entire day. Your focus will now shift from your day-to-day life, work, and family, to blood tests, scans, and hours spent at doctor’s clinics or the hospital. This stage is generally an unfamiliar experience for most people and everyone has plenty of questions related to metastatic breast cancer. Today we discuss some things you need to know when you start metastatic breast cancer treatment, to help make this phase a bit easier.
Understand that Treatment of Metastatic Breast Cancer is Not a Cure
Getting diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer is a life-changing moment. There is no cure for stage 4 breast cancer. This is because by this stage cancer has already spread to many parts of the body. However, just because metastatic breast cancer is not curable, this does not mean that it is not treatable.
Treatment options for metastatic breast cancer include radiation, chemotherapy, hormone, and targeted therapies. These therapies will help reduce the size of your tumor and slow down the progression of cancer. This will help prolong the life of metastatic breast cancer patients, and also somewhat better the quality of their life.
Pinpoint Your Cancer Type
The treatment for metastatic breast cancer is not the same for everyone. After you have been diagnosed with stage 4 breast cancer, your oncologist will proceed to run diagnostic tests to look for specific hormone receptors, growth factors, and genes, which will help pinpoint what type of metastatic cancer you have and which treatment will be the most effective for your cancer type.
For example, one type of metastatic breast cancer is known as hormone receptor-positive breast cancer. In this condition, the hormones progesterone and estrogen help growth the breast cancer grow. These hormones only impact the cancer cells since they have a hormone receptor present on the surface. Due to this, hormone-receptor-positive breast cancer responds well when treated with hormone therapies such as aromatase inhibitors or tamoxifen. These therapies prevent estrogen from boosting the growth of cancer cells.
Another type of breast cancer has human epidermal growth factor receptors (HERs) on their surface. These are proteins that are responsible for signaling the cancer cells to begin to divide. The cancer cells that are HER2-positive begin to actually grow and divide much more aggressively as compared to other cells. When treated with medications such as Perjeta (pertuzumab) and Herceptin (trastuzumab), the cancer cell growth signals get blocked, slowing down the progression of the disease.
Treatment For Metastatic Breast Cancer Will Be Expensive
In spite of having insurance, it is unlikely that your insurance will cover all your treatment expenses. Many private insurance plans have certain limits on how much you need to pay yourself before the insurance plan begins. This means that you may have to spend thousands of dollars before you reach the limit and your plan kicks in.
Furthermore, you will be unable to work during the treatment and get the same salary that you were getting before. This makes handling the expenses even more difficult.
This is why before you begin your treatment, it is best to get an estimate from your doctor about what the expected costs will be. Then you can contact your health insurance company to find out how much of the given estimate they will cover. You should also find out how you can get financial aid to cover your expenses.
Don’t Forget About Side Effects of Metastatic Breast Cancer Treatment
Treatment for metastatic breast cancer is known to be very effective, but unfortunately, they are not free from side effects.
There are many unpleasant and uncomfortable side effects associated with breast cancer treatments.
Some potential side effects associated with hormone therapies, for example, may include experiencing the symptoms of menopause such as osteoporosis and hot flashes. Chemotherapy may have a side effect that makes your hair fall out and also causes diarrhea, nausea, and vomiting.
Your doctor will recommend certain medications or other treatments to help you manage these side effects.
A Lot of Time Will Be Spent With Doctors
Getting treated for metastatic breast cancer will involve visiting doctors at the clinics and the hospital. You must be mentally prepared to accept the fact that you will be spending most of your time with doctors, be it at the hospital or at the clinics.
Chemotherapy, for instance, will require time and it will take hours to get the drug administered intravenously. In between the chemotherapy treatments, you will also need to keep visiting your doctor to ensure that the therapy is working for you.
No Two People Have The Same Breast Cancer
You may assume that everybody who has been diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer is going through the same thing as you and are experiencing the same side effects as well. However, the fact is that you are different from each and every person who has been diagnosed with stage 4 breast cancer. This is because even though you may be having the same type of breast cancer, your disease is not going to behave the same as anybody else. Everyone responds to treatment in a different manner and everyone’s cancer behaves in a different way than others.
This is why you must focus on your own condition and while you may feel better to get support from other breast cancer patients, do not make the mistake of comparing your situation to theirs. It may only make you feel worse.
Clinical Trials are a Possibility
If none of the treatments for metastatic breast cancer work for you or if they have stopped working over a period of time, then don’t just assume that this is the end of the path for you. There are always new treatments that are under development. Your doctor will be able to recommend many types of clinical trials that are suitable for you and will also help you get enrolled in one. While these are only experimental treatments and they may be slow to work, there is always a chance that you will benefit greatly from the clinical trial.
Consider the Quality of Your Life
While your doctors may suggest various treatments, the ultimate choice remains up to you. You have to remember that apart from extending your life for as long as possible, you should also consider the treatment that will be having side effects that you are capable of bearing. This is because unpleasant and uncomfortable side effects of breast cancer treatments can reduce the quality of your life drastically.
When you have a better quality of life, you are able to fight the disease better. Make the most of pain relief techniques and palliative care to make yourself feel good during the treatment. In fact, it may surprise you to know that most hospitals also offer palliative care as part of the treatment for metastatic breast cancer. So make sure you ask your doctor about it.
Remember that at the end of the day you are not alone. There are thousands of women living with metastatic breast cancer. You can consider joining a support group for patients which will help you meet other patients and connect with them. If you are feeling overwhelmed, then you should consider private counseling with a professional therapist or even mental health providers. These small tips will make you ready to face the uphill battle of metastatic breast cancer treatment.
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