If you’ve had a diagnosis of metastatic breast cancer, you might feel scared and overwhelmed, perhaps concerned about the prospects of treatment. However, you should know that you have reasons to be hopeful. Doctors treat metastatic breast cancer as a chronic disease, managing the cancer for as long as possible with hopes of no disease progression.
Treatment can make it possible for you to lead years of a fulfilling life. Some women far outlive their prognoses and can manage their diseases with a high quality of life for many years. A small percentage of women with metastatic breast cancer experience no disease progression.
Your diagnosis and treatment will call for a lot of tests. The first tests, during diagnosis, find the location of metastases. Read more about diagnostic tests here.
Doctors will use later tests to see how well your treatment is working, if it is shrinking the cancer or keeping it from growing. Additionally, doctors will ask about your symptoms—treatment should also manage pain, other symptoms and treatment side-effects.
A lot of the valuable information will come from your pathology report. This in-depth description of your cancer may seem intimidating because of all the medical terminology. To better understand it, please visit our pathology page. Also, remember that a metastatic recurrence may not have the same pathology as your original cancer. Talk to your doctor about this possibility and discuss having another biopsy to learn more about your new pathology.
Lines of Treatment
Understanding what to expect during your treatment can make it feel more manageable. In general, doctors will try one therapy after another, continuing each one as long as it works. If one course of therapy stops working, you can turn to others to stabilize the disease. Doctors refer to each new treatment as a “line of treatment.”
By closely monitoring treatments and changing them when necessary, doctors can often stabilize your cancer for a long time. For this reason, some doctors view treating metastatic breast cancer as similar to treating a chronic disease, which it is.
Be sure to ask your doctor if you might qualify for any clinical trials. For metastatic women, trials should be considered as a first resort, not a last one. Some clinical trials may not allow women with a lot of pre-treatment to enroll. Talk to your doctor about your eligibility.
These trials, important sources of information for researchers, also give you the opportunity to try new treatments. They may offer an improvement over the current, standard treatments. One doctor may have access to clinical trials that another doesn’t, so look around. Learn more about clinical trials.