[Health Warning] These Are The Signs Of Metastatic Breast Cancer

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As of January 2020, there were 3.8 million women diagnosed with breast cancer in the United States [1], and 279,100 people (276,480 women and 2,620 men) were estimated to be diagnosed with invasive breast cancer in 2020 [2]. As a result, it’s important to know what the signs and symptoms of breast cancer are, as there may be some that surprise you.

A person holding a ribbon symbolizing cancer.

Among American women, the average risk of developing breast cancer is about 13% [3], which makes breast cancer the second most common cancer after skin cancer. According to Breastcancer.org, nearly 30% of those diagnosed with early-stage breast cancer eventually develop metastatic cancer [4]. Additionally, about 6% of women have metastatic cancer upon the first diagnosis [2].

The Canadian Cancer Society estimated that 27,400 women would be diagnosed with cancer in 2020, which would represent 25% of all new cancer cases among women [5].

And in the UK, around 55,000 women and 370 men are diagnosed with breast cancer each year [6].

Clearly, breast cancer is a significant issue for modern society and medicine. Fortunately, early detection of any type of cancer may make the disease easier to treat.

But to increase the chances of successful treatment, it’s important to be able to recognize the signs of breast cancer and address a doctor early on in the disease.

What Is Metastatic Breast Cancer?

Metastatic breast cancer is cancer that has spread to another part of the body – most commonly, the brain, lungs, liver, or bones [4]. This type of cancer is also called stage IV breast cancer.

Metastatic cancers are distinct from invasive cancers in that with invasive cancer, the disease has only spread into surrounding breast tissue rather than other organs.

Metastatic breast cancer occurs when cancer cells break away from the original tumor and spread to other parts of the body through the lymphatic system or the bloodstream. Even years after treatment, breast cancer may come back in another part of the body.

Despite what you may be thinking, metastatic or stage IV cancer is not a hopeless condition. Modern medicine provides a wide array of treatment options for patients with metastatic breast cancer, enabling them to productively live their lives. But you need to act fast to have a successful outcome.

Signs And Symptoms Of Metastatic Breast Cancer

The symptoms of metastatic breast cancer can heavily vary between individuals and depending on the location of metastasis. But as a general rule, stage 4 breast cancer symptoms include [7]:

  • Changes in breast shape.
  • Shortness of breath and fatigue.
  • New, unexplained pain.
  • Changes in appetite.
  • Digestion difficulties.
  • Weight loss.

Aside from these signs, you may experience other symptoms based on the location of breast cancer metastasis [7][8].

Metastasis in bones

With metastasis in bones, symptoms may include but are not limited to:

  • Bone pain, such as in the hips or back.
  • Weakened bones.
  • Bone fractures.
  • Too much calcium in the blood.
  • Numb legs or arms.

Metastasis in lungs

Common symptoms of cancer metastasis in the lungs include:

  • Chronic cough that may get worse over time.
  • Difficulty catching your breath.
  • Weakness or fatigue.
  • Chest pain.
  • Coughing up rust-colored spit, phlegm, or blood.
  • Hoarseness.

Metastasis in the brain

If breast cancer has made it into your brain, you may have the following symptoms:

  • Severe headaches.
  • Seizures or behavior changes.
  • Vision problems.
  • Nausea and difficulty walking or balancing.
  • Sleepiness.

Metastasis in the liver

Metastasis in the liver may manifest itself through the following symptoms:

  • Lack of appetite and feeling full after a small meal.
  • Weight loss.
  • Vomiting or nausea.
  • Abdominal pain.
  • Pain near the right shoulder blade.
  • A feeling of fullness under the ribs on the right side (caused by an enlarged liver).
  • Itchy and/or yellowing skin.

How Is Metastatic Breast Cancer Diagnosed?

Because the symptoms of metastatic breast cancer correspond to the symptoms caused by other diseases, you will need to undergo a number of tests for accurate diagnosis. Among the tests that you may need to pass are:

  • Blood tests.
  • PET scan.
  • Bone scan.
  • CT scan.
  • MRI.
  • X-rays.
  • Biopsy.

Typically, test results are ready in a day or two, though biopsy results can take up to a week to arrive.  However, the scheduling of tests takes time by itself, so you should act quickly if you suspect metastatic breast cancer. If you are suffering from new and odd pain, fatigue, lack of appetite, or have other unexplained changes in your well-being, you should schedule an appointment as soon as you can.

None us wish to experience something like cancer, and therefore keeping oneself educated on the signs and symptoms of it can be tremendously valuable.

 

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Sources:
  1. “Breast Cancer: Statistics”, American Society of Clinical Oncology, https://www.cancer.net/cancer-types/breast-cancer/statistics.
  2. “Breast Cancer – Metastatic: Statistics”, American Society of Clinical Oncology, https://www.cancer.net/cancer-types/breast-cancer-metastatic/statistics.
  3. “How Common Is Breast Cancer?”, American Cancer Society, https://www.cancer.org/cancer/breast-cancer/about/how-common-is-breast-cancer.html.
  4. “Metastatic Breast Cancer”, Breastcancer.org, https://www.breastcancer.org/symptoms/types/recur_metast.
  5. “Breast cancer statistics”, Canadian Cancer Society, https://www.cancer.ca/en/cancer-information/cancer-type/breast/statistics/?region=on.
  6. “Facts and statistics 2020”, Breast Cancer Now, https://breastcancernow.org/about-us/media/facts-statistics.
  7. “Metastatic Breast Cancer: Understanding the Symptoms”, Healthline, https://www.healthline.com/health/metastatic-breast-cancer-end-of-life-symptoms.
  8. “How Do I Know If I Have Metastatic Breast Cancer?”, WebMD, https://www.webmd.com/breast-cancer/metastatic-breast-cancer-symptoms-diagnosis.
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