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Introduction to Metastatic Breast Cancer

It is estimated that each year 40,000 women in the United States are affected by breast cancer. This particular type of cancer is responsible for the majority of cancer-related deaths worldwide. Breast cancer can be simply defined as uncontrollable growth of the malignant cells which originate from the breast tissue. Even though breast cancer is typical for women it may, in rather small number, also affect men. As for women the cancer most commonly occurs between the age of 45 and 55.

Metastatic breast cancer refers to a cancer which has spread from its initial place of formation to the distant organs. This is actually an advanced stage of the disease. The cells usually spread via lymphatic blood vessels. If we are discussing regional metastases we are talking about the body area near the affected breast and the term distant metastases refers to the spread of the cancer cells to the distant organs such as the bones, brain, liver and lungs.

Life expectancy for metastatic breast cancer is not so high. But there are certain differences and even if cancer has spread to distant organs with proper treatment a woman may prolong the inevitable outcome of the disease. This generally depends on the very part of the body the cancer has spread to.

Metastatic Breast Cancer Life Expectancy

The general fact is that once the tumor has spread to other organs life expectancy becomes much shorter than in case of localized tumor growth. The primary organs affected by breast cancer metastases are bones, liver and lungs. Still, this type of cancer can also spread to the brain, bone marrow, ovaries, eyes, spinal cord and give subcutaneous metastases. In 25% of all women with a relapse of the disease the tumor spreads to bone tissue and two thirds have to deal with liver metastases.

The very symptoms of metastatic disease basically depend on the very location of the metastases. In case of the spread of the tumor to bones, a person suffers from intensive pain and there is also a chance of pathological fractures. Spread of the tumor to the liver may cause lack of appetite and dull pain in the upper right part of the abdomen. If the liver is affected with many metastases its function can be hampered. Lung metastases generally cause shortness of breath or if they are small they may be identified on routine chest X ray. And finally, brain metastases feature with a variety of neurological symptoms and signs.

The goal of the treatment for metastatic breast cancer is to improve a woman's quality of life. It consists of chemotherapy and radiation therapy. Which of these treatment modalities is going to be applied depends of the location of metastases.

It is estimated that around 16% of women survive metastatic breast cancer while 20% may live for at least 5 years after the diagnosis has been set. However, although the statistics may not seem encouraging women should know that even metastatic breast cancer can be treated and a woman's life span can be significantly extended.

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