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Breast Cancer

Things to know about breast cancer

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Breast cancer is the most common invasive cancer in women, and is the second leading cause of death from lung cancer in women.

Advances in breast cancer screening and treatment have dramatically improved overall survival rates since 1989. There are more than 3.1 million breast cancer survivors in the USA, according to the American Cancer Society (ACS). Any woman who suffers from breast cancer has a chance of about 1 in 38 (2.6%).

The ACS predicts that 268,600 women will be diagnosed with invasive breast cancer, and that in 2019, 62,930 people will be diagnosed with non-invasive cancer.

In the same year, the ACS estimates that there will be 41,760 women dying from breast cancer. However, since 1989, death rates from breast cancer have been falling as a result of advances during treatment.

Being aware of the symptoms and the need for screening are important ways to reduce the risk. Breast cancer may also affect men in rare cases but this article will focus on women’s breast cancer.

Symptoms

Daily screening is critical to lower breast cancer risks.
Daily screening is critical to lower breast cancer risks.

Typically, the first signs of breast cancer occur as a thickened tissue region in the breast or a lump in the breast or an armpit.

Additional signs include:

  • pain in the armpits or breast that does not change with the monthly cycle
  • pitting or redness of the skin of the breast, similar to the surface of an orange
  • a rash around or on one of the nipples
  • discharge from a nipple, possibly containing blood
  • a sunken or inverted nipple
  • a change in the size or shape of the breast
  • peeling, flaking, or scaling of the skin on the breast or nipple

Most breast lumps are not carcinogenic. However, if women notice a lump on the breast they should visit a doctor for an exam.

Stages

A doctor will assess cancer by tumor size and whether it has spread to lymph nodes or other parts of the body.

There are various ways to treat breast cancer. One way is from stage 0–4, with categories subdivided at each numerated stage. Descriptions of the four main stages are listed below, although a cancer’s specific substage may also depend on other specific tumor characteristics, such as HER2 receptor status.

  • Stage 0: Known as ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS), the cells are limited to within the ducts and have not invaded surrounding tissues.
  • Stage 1: At this stage, the tumor measures up to 2 centimeters (cm) across. It has not affected any lymph nodes, or there are small groups of cancer cells in the lymph nodes.
  • Stage 2: The tumor is 2 cm across, and it has started to spread to nearby nodes, or is 2–5 cm across and has not spread to the lymph nodes.
  • Stage 3: The tumor is up to 5 cm across, and it has spread to several lymph nodes or the tumor is larger than 5 cm and has spread to a few lymph nodes.
  • Stage 4: The cancer has spread to distant organs, most often the bones, liver, brain, or lungs.

Causes

A woman’s breast after puberty is made of fat, connective tissue and thousands of lobules. These are tiny glands which produce breastfeeding milk. Small tubes, or ducts, hold the milk to the nipple.

Cancer causes uncontrollable proliferation of the cells. They don’t die at their normal lifecycle stage. The rapid growth of cells causes cancer because the tumor requires nutrients and resources, and the cells around it are depleted.

Breast cancer usually begins in the inner lining of milk ducts or in the lobules that provide milk to them. It can spread from there on to other parts of the body.

Risk factors

The exact cause of breast cancer remains unclear but it is made more likely by some risk factors. Many of these risk factors may be avoided.

Age

Through age the risk of breast cancer increases. At 20 years of age, breast cancer is likely to develop 0.06 percent in the next decade. That percentage goes up to 3.84 per cent by the age of 70.

Genetics

Women who carry certain mutations in the genes BRCA1 and BRCA2 are more likely to develop breast cancer, ovarian cancer or both. Those genes are inherited from their parents.

Mutations in the gene TP53 also have ties to an increased risk of breast cancer.

If a close relative has or has had breast cancer, then the chance for a person to develop breast cancer increases.

Current guidelines recommend looking for genetic testing by people in the following groups:

  • those with a family history of breast, ovarian, fallopian tube, or peritoneal cancer
  • those in whose ancestry there is a history of breast cancer related to BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene mutations, for example, people with Ashkenazi Jewish ancestry

A history of breast cancer or breast lumps

Women who have had breast cancer before are more likely to have it again than those who do not have the disease history.

Finding these types of noncancerous lump in the breast increases the chance of developing cancer later. Examples include atypical hyperplasia to the duct or in situ lobular carcinoma.

People with a history of breast, ovarian, fallopian tube or peritoneal cancer should inquire for genetic testing from their physicians.

Dense breast tissue

Women with denser breasts are more likely to get the breast cancer diagnosis.

Estrogen exposure and breastfeeding

Extended sensitivity to estrogen appears to make breast cancer more likely.

This could be attributed to a person entering menopause at a later than average age or starting their periods earlier. Between those times the levels of estrogen are higher.

Breastfeeding appears to reduce the chance of developing breast cancer, especially for over 1 year. This may be due to the drop in exposure to estrogen following pregnancy and breastfeeding.

Body weight

People who become overweight or develop obesity following menopause may also have an increased chance of developing breast cancer, likely due to increased levels of estrogen.

Alcohol consumption

A higher rate of regular alcohol consumption seems to play a part in the development of breast cancer.

Studies have repeatedly found that women who consume alcohol have a higher risk for breast cancer than those who do not, according to the National Cancer Institute (NCI). Those who drink moderate to heavy alcohol levels show a higher risk than light drinkers.

Radiation exposure

Undergoing treatment with radiation for another cancer can increase the risk of developing breast cancer later in life.

Hormone treatments

According to the NCI, studies have shown that oral contraceptives may slightly increase the risk of breast cancer

According to the ACS, studies have found that hormone replacement therapy (HRT), specifically estrogen-progesterone therapy (EPT), is related to an increased risk of breast cancer.

Cosmetic implants and breast cancer survival

A 2013 study found that women with silicone breast implants who had the breast cancer diagnosis also had a higher risk of dying from the disease.

This may be due to implants masking cancer during tests or due to changes in breast tissue caused by the implants.

However, a 2015 study published in the Aesthetic Surgery Journal found that the risk of breast cancer was not raised by getting cosmetic breast implant surgery.

Further research is needed by scientists to confirm the connection.

Types

There are several different types of breast cancer, including:

  • Ductal carcinoma: This begins in the milk duct and is the most common type.
  • Lobular carcinoma: This starts in the lobules.

Invasive breast cancer occurs when the cells in the lobules or ducts break out and invade nearby tissue. That increases the chance of spreading cancer to other parts of the body.

Non-invasive breast cancer develops when the cancer remains and has not yet spread within its place of origin. These cells can sometimes progress toward invasive breast cancer, however.

Diagnosis

A doctor frequently suspects breast cancer as a result of routine screening, or as a patient visits her doctor after symptoms have been identified.

Many tests and diagnostic procedures help confirm a diagnosis.

Breast check

The doctor will screen for lumps and other symptoms in the breasts.

The person may need to sit or stand in different positions with his or her arms during the test, such as above their head or by their sides.

Imaging tests

Several tests can help detect breast cancer.

Mammogram: This is a type of X-ray commonly used by doctors during an initial screening for breast cancer. It produces images which can help a doctor detect any abnormalities or lumps.

A doctor will usually take further testing to follow any suspicious results. Mammography, however, sometimes shows a suspicious area, which turns out not to be cancer.

Ultrasound: This scan uses sound waves to help a doctor distinguish between a solid mass and a cyst full of fluid.

MRI: Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) incorporates different breast scans to help a doctor detect cancer or any other abnormality.

As a follow-up to a mammogram or ultrasound a doctor can prescribe an MRI. Doctors also use it as a screening tool for those at greater breast cancer risk.

Biopsy

In a biopsy the doctor extracts a tissue sample and sends it to be analyzed in laboratory.

Which shows whether the cells are cancerous. If they are, a biopsy shows what type of cancer has grown, including whether the cancer is hormone active or not.

Diagnosis also includes cancer stageing to determine:

  • the size of a tumor
  • how far it has spread
  • whether it is invasive or noninvasive

Staging gives an image of a person’s chances of recovery and their ideal treatment course.

Treatment

Treatment will depend on several factors, including:

  • the type and stage of the cancer
  • the person’s sensitivity to hormones
  • the age, overall health, and preferences of the individual

The main treatment options include:

radiation therapy

  • surgery
  • biological therapy, or targeted drug therapy
  • hormone therapy
  • chemotherapy

Factors affecting a person’s type of treatment will include the cancer level, certain medical conditions and their individual preferences

Surgery

If surgery is required, the form will depend on the diagnosis as well as the individual preferences. Surgery types include: lumpectomy: this involves the removal of the tumor and a small amount of healthy tissue that is around it.

A lumpectomy may help prevent the cancer from spreading. If the tumor is small and easy to separate from its surrounding tissue, this may be an option.

Mastectomy: A simple mastectomy involves the removal of lobules, ducts, fatty tissue, nipple, isola and some skin. In some types the lymph nodes and muscle in the chest wall will also be removed by a surgeon.

Sentinel node biopsy: If breast cancer reaches the sentinel lymph nodes, which are the first nodes a cancer can spread to, it can spread through the lymphatic system to other parts of the body. If the doctor does not find cancer in the sentinel nodes then removing the remaining nodes is usually not necessary.

Dissection of the axillary lymph node: If a doctor finds cancer cells in the sentinel nodes, several lymph nodes in the axillary may be recommended for removal. That may prevent the spread of cancer.

Reconstruction: A surgeon can reconstruct the breast after mastectomy to make it look more natural. This can help a person cope with the effects of breast removal psychologically.

The surgeon can reconstruct the breast at the same time as or at a later date doing a mastectomy. We may be using a breast implant or tissue from another body part.

Radiation therapy

An individual may undergo radiation therapy about a month after surgery. Radiation includes targeting the tumor with controlled radiation doses which kill any remaining cancer cells.

Chemotherapy

A doctor may prescribe cytotoxic chemotherapy drugs that kill cancer cells if the risk of recurrence or spread is high. After surgery, doctors call it adjuvant chemotherapy, if a person has chemotherapy.

Sometimes, prior to surgery, a doctor may choose to administer chemotherapy to shrink the tumor and facilitate its removal. Doctors call this Chemotherapy Neoadjuvant.

Hormone blocking therapy

Doctors use hormone-blocking therapy to prevent the return of hormonally sensitive breast cancers after treatment. Hormone therapy may be used to treat cancers that are positive for the estrogen receptor (ER) and for the progesterone receptor (PR).

They usually administer hormone blocking therapy following surgery but may sometimes use it to shrink the tumor beforehand.

For people who are not suitable candidates for surgery, chemotherapy or radiotherapy, hormone blocking therapy may be the only option.

Doctors may recommend that a person undergo hormone therapy for 5–10 years following surgery. The treatment, however, will not affect cancers which are not hormone sensitive.

Examples of hormone blocking therapy medications may include:

  • tamoxifen
  • aromatase inhibitors
  • ovarian ablation or suppression
  • Goserelin, which is a luteinizing hormone-releasing agonist drug that suppresses the ovaries

Hormone treatment may affect fertility.

Biological treatment

Targeted drugs can destroy specific types of breast cancer. Examples include:

  • trastuzumab (Herceptin)
  • lapatinib (Tykerb)
  • bevacizumab (Avastin)

Breast and other cancer treatments can have severe side effects. People should discuss the potential risks with a doctor when deciding on a treatment, and look at ways of minimizing the side effects.

Outlook

The outlook for a person with breast cancer is dependent on the stage. Early detection and care tend to result in a positive outlook.

A person receiving treatment for stage 0 or stage 1 breast cancer has a 99 percent chance of surviving for at least 5 years after being diagnosed, compared to women who do not have cancer, according to the ACS.

When breast cancer enters stage 4, the probability of survival for another 5 years will be decreased to around 27%.

Regular checks and screening may help in early detection of symptoms. Women should converse with a doctor about their options.

Daily screening

There are a number of different guidelines for how often women should be screening for breast cancer.

The American College of Physicists (ACP) recommends that women aged 40–49 with an average risk of breast cancer discuss with a doctor the benefits and risks of regular scans.

Women who have an average risk between the ages of 50 and 74 should undergo screenings every 2 years. Beyond the age of 75, doctors prescribe screenings only for women with a life expectancy of 10 years or more.

The ACS suggests that women of average risk can choose to have regular scans from 40 years of age onwards. Those not having will start screening at age 45 annually. If they reach age 55, they can decide to switch to screenings every other year.

Every year the American College of Radiologists suggests screenings beginning from age 40.

Notwithstanding the different guidelines, most experts agree that women should be discussing breast cancer screening with their doctors from age 40 onwards.

Prevention

Breast cancer is not stopped. Many lifestyle choices, however, can significantly reduce the risk of breast cancer, as well as other forms.

These include:

  • avoiding excessive alcohol consumption
  • following a healthful diet containing plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables
  • getting enough exercise
  • maintaining a healthy body mass index (BMI)

Women should consider their breastfeeding choices and post-menopause use of HRT, as these can also increase the risk.

Preventive surgery is also an option for high risk women with breast cancer.

Q:

Which other cancers are common in women?

A:

Other than skin cancer, the cancers that most often affect women include:

  • lung cancer
  • colorectal cancer
  • uterine cancer
  • thyroid cancer
  • endometrial cancer
  • cervical cancer
  • ovarian cancer

Answers represent the views of our experts in medicine. All material is purely educational, and the medical advice should not be considered.

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Breast Cancer

Breast pain: The most common causes

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Mastalgia, or breast pain, is fairly common. Hormonal fluctuations, an inappropriate bra fit, and infections are also potential causes. In certain situations, transferred pain from other parts of the body, such as the back or neck, is to blame.

Breast pain affects almost two-thirds of women during their reproductive years, and it is one of the most common complaints among people aged 15 to 40.

Although breast pain is not a common sign of breast cancer, it should be discussed with a doctor if it occurs in conjunction with other breast abnormalities such as a lump or discharge.

Continue reading to discover more about some of the causes of breast pain and how to deal with this condition.

Scar tissue

breast Scar tissue

Scar tissue can form as a result of both surgery and radiation therapy for breast cancer. This can lead to:

  • numbness or pain, if the scar tissue develops around nerves
  • an increase in firmness or a rounder appearance of the breast
  • formation of a lump if the scar forms around a surgical stitch

Treatment options include:

  • In physical therapy, if the scar tissue causes pain, stiffness, and pressure
  • Surgical removal of scar tissue, if it is very painful
  • If a person finds scars bothersome, they may opt to use creams and ointments to reduce their appearance.

Back, neck, or shoulder sprains

Breast pain might come from the exterior rather than the inside of the breast. Sprains or injuries to the back, neck, or shoulder, for example, might result in pain in the breast.

Cervical root disorders, sometimes known as a pinched nerve, can induce breast pain, according to a 2020 study. A nerve root in the neck is damaged or inflamed in certain illnesses.

Referred pain occurs when people experience pain in a different location than where it originates. The treatment is based on identifying the underlying issue. If a person suffering from breast pain has a pinched nerve, physical therapy or spinal surgery to relieve the pinched nerve may help.

Costochondritis

Inflammation of the costal cartilage, which links the ribs to the breastbone, is known as costochondritis. Sharp chest pain and tenderness can accompany the condition, which can develop gradually or suddenly.

The following variables may aggravate the discomfort:

include:

  • Avoid activities that worsen the pain.
  • applying heat to the area
  • Take one of the following medications:
  • undergoing transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS), a procedure that applies an electric current to an area to reduce pain.

Chest wall pain

Pain in the chest wall can be caused by a variety of factors. Even though it is not, this discomfort might sometimes feel like it is coming from the breast.

The pain might range in intensity from a single spot to a large area of the breast. A person may have the following experiences:

  • burning or sharp pain
  • pain that spreads down the arm
  • pain that occurs when someone applies pressure to the chest wall
  • pain that worsens upon movement

Possible causes include:

Treatment will depend on the cause, but it may include pain management and avoiding movements that aggravate the pain until the core cause has been addressed.

Breast cysts

Breast cysts are fluid-filled sacs seen in the breast. They’re noncancerous, soft, and more common in women who aren’t yet menopausal. Some cysts are asymptomatic, while others cause pain and nipple discharge.

Treatment isn’t necessary unless the cysts are particularly large or painful. If therapy is required, the fluid will be drained with a needle.

Breast cancer

When cells in the breast change and multiply uncontrollably, breast cancer develops. Breast pain is not commonly caused by cancer, but it is a cause. Other signs and symptoms could include:

  • a lump in the breast
  • pain in any part of the breast
  • any nipple discharge — bloody, clear, or otherwise
  • dimpling or irritation of breast skin
  • pulling in at the nipple or pain in the nipple
  • flaky, inflamed skin in the nipple area
  • thickening or swelling of part of the breast
  • change in the shape or size of the breast

Rarely, people can develop inflammatory breast cancer, which causes different symptoms. These include:

  • a painful, tender, or itchy breast
  • pink, red, or purple discoloration that covers at least one-third of the breast
  • swelling of the skin, making one breast look larger than the other
  • pitting of the skin, similar to that of orange peel
  • a retracted or inverted nipple

Surgery, chemotherapy, hormone therapy, radiation therapy, and biologic therapy are all options for treating breast cancer. Often, people will get more than one of these treatments.

Hormonal changes

Breasts that are tender or swollen are frequently due to hormonal changes that occur before a period. Tenderness in both breasts is common with this type of breast pain, which can also spread to the armpit.

Cyclic breast pain occurs when breast pain is linked to the menstrual cycle. Premenstrual syndrome (PMS) is a group of symptoms that occur before a period, however cyclic breast discomfort can also occur on its own.

Other PMS symptoms include:

PMS is just transient, and it normally disappears a few days after your period starts. People can address the symptoms in the meanwhile by using over-the-counter (OTC) pain medicines, wearing a comfortable and supportive bra, and applying moderate heat to the area.

Other hormonal changes, such as those that occur during pregnancy or in the early stages of menopause, can also cause breast pain.

Bra fit

Bras that are overly tight or have an underwire that digs into the skin or breast tissue can cause breast pain. If a person has cyclic breast discomfort, they may notice that their regular bras feel too small or uncomfortable at certain periods during their menstrual cycle.

Many major stores provide free bra fittings to help people choose the proper size. If women have soreness before their period, they may want to invest in non-wired, supportive, and comfy bras.

When exercising, supportive bras might also be beneficial. According to a 2021 article, 60–70% of women report decreased breast soreness when they exercise while using a sports bra.

Breast fibrocystic changes

Due to hormonal changes, fibrocystic breast alterations are harmless but potentially painful symptoms that cause the breasts to feel lumpy or have a distinct texture. The most frequent type of noncancerous breast condition is fibrocystic breast disease.

The following are examples of symptoms:

  • breasts that feel firmer or thicker than usual
  • tenderness
  • lumps or cysts
  • sensitive nipples
  • itchiness

Before a period, the symptoms may become more severe, but they normally subside following menopause.

The following procedures may be used to treat or manage fibrocystic breasts:

  • taking OTC pain medication, such as acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Advil)
  • applying cool or warm compresses when the breasts are more painful
  • avoiding a large intake of salt, caffeine, or fat in the diet
  • starting or stopping birth control pills

If you think your fibrocystic breast changes are linked to a new contraceptive, talk to your doctor before changing your dose.

Mastitis

Mastitis is the medical word for breast inflammation or swelling. Infection is the most common cause. Although the condition most commonly affects breastfeeding mothers, it can also afflict non-breastfeeding people.

Mastitis can cause the following symptoms:

  • swelling, pain, and warmth in part of the breast
  • fever
  • headaches
  • general flu-like symptoms

Antibiotics are used to treat infections. Breastfeeding mothers must empty their breasts of milk as well. If an abscess is present, the pus will be surgically removed or removed with a needle.

Medications

Some drugs have been linked to the onset of breast pain. These are some of them:

  • Bigitalis preparations, such as digoxin (Digox), which treat congestive heart failure and abnormal heart rhythm
  • chlorpromazine (Thorazine), a medication for mental health disorders
  • certain potassium-sparing diuretics, such as eplerenone (Inspra) or spironolactone (Aldactone)
  • oxymetholone (Anadrol), which treats low red blood cell count
  • methyldopa (Aldomet), which is a treatment for high blood pressure

People who are experiencing breast pain should consult a doctor to see if any of their prescriptions are the source of their symptoms.

Cyclic vs. noncyclic pain

There are certain fundamental differences between cyclic pain and noncyclic pain, which is linked to the menstrual cycle. The table below contrasts and compares the two forms of pain:

Cyclic painNoncyclic pain
varies with hormones in the menstrual cycledoes not vary with the menstrual cycle
common among females in their 20s, 30s, and 40smore common after menopause
generally affects both breasts equallytends to affect one or more localized areas of one breast
may occur alongside tenderness, swelling, or lumpinesspain often feels sharp and burning

Hormones may not be the main cause of cyclic pain, especially if one breast hurts more than the other.

Keeping a symptom diary can help you figure out if your pain is cyclic. Alternatively, to discover if there is a trend, people can utilize applications that track menstruation and its associated symptoms.

It can be beneficial to provide a numerical value to the pain severity every day during one or more menstrual cycles in a symptom diary. It’s possible that the pain is cyclic if it happens or gets worse at the same time every cycle. During a doctor’s visit, people might discuss this information with them.

Managing breast pain

Mastalgia pain can be alleviated in a variety of people. These are some of them:

  • wearing a supportive bra that fits well
  • taking OTC pain medications
  • limiting the intake of chocolate, coffee, tea, and soft drinks
  • applying hot or cold compresses to the breasts
  • getting regular exercise
  • engaging in relaxation methods to reduce stressanxiety, and tension

Before attempting self-care practices, consult with a healthcare professional to ensure that they are acceptable. Medical intervention may be required in some cases.

Conclusion

Breast pain, also known as mastalgia, can be caused by a variety of factors. It’s possible that this ailment is cyclic or noncyclic. If the discomfort is cyclic, it is caused by the menstrual cycle’s fluctuating hormones.

PMS, fibrocystic breast changes, traumas and sprains, and inflammation around the ribs can all cause noncyclic breast pain. This symptom is sometimes caused by cysts or infections.

Despite the condition that breast cancer is rarely the cause of breast discomfort, anyone experiencing this symptom should see a doctor to rule it out.

Sources:

  • https://www.karger.com/Article/FullText/505364
  • https://www.cdc.gov/cancer/breast/index.htm
  • https://about-cancer.cancerresearchuk.org/about-cancer/breast-cancer/symptoms
  • https://www.stanfordchildrens.org/en/topic/default?id=breast-conditions-90-P01589
  • https://www.nationalbreastcancer.org/cyst-in-breast
  • https://www.breastcancer.org/symptoms/benign/cysts
  • https://www.nationalbreastcancer.org/breast-pain/
  • https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/311833
  • https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/breast-pain/
  • https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/costochondritis/
  • https://www.breastcancer.org/symptoms/benign/fibrocystic-changes
  • https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK562196/
  • https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK551609/
  • https://www.breastcancer.org/symptoms/benign/mastalgia
  • https://www.cancer.org/cancer/breast-cancer/non-cancerous-breast-conditions/mastitis.html
  • https://www.womenshealth.gov/menstrual-cycle/premenstrual-syndrome
  • https://www.breastcancer.org/treatment/side_effects/scar_tissue
  • https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK562195/

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Breast Cancer

Stage 4 breast cancer: What you need to know

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Gender and sex exist on a spectrum. This article will use the terms “male,” “female,” or both to refer to the sex assigned at birth. To learn more, visit here.

When cancer spreads to distant organs, tissue, or lymph nodes, it is classified as stage 4 breast cancer. Stage 4 breast cancer is often known as advanced cancer, secondary breast cancer, or metastatic breast cancer by healthcare experts.

Symptoms differ depending on where the cancer has spread. Treatment for stage 4 breast cancer attempts to keep the cancer under control, reduce symptoms, and provide the best possible quality of life for the patient.

This article goes through the signs and symptoms of stage 4 breast cancer, as well as the outlook and treatment choices.

Stage 4 breast cancer

Stage 4 breast cancer

Stage 4 breast cancer develops when cancerous cells migrate beyond the breast and nearby lymph nodes to other parts of the body.

Breast cancer most usually spreads to the lungs, liver, and bones, according to the American Cancer Society (ACS). It can potentially spread to other organs like as lymph nodes, skin, and the brain.

Stage 4 breast cancer can be diagnosed as either a new case (de novo) or a recurrence of a previous case (recurrence).

Rates of survival

The Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results (SEER) Program database is used by the American Cancer Society to track 5-year relative survival rates.

A relative survival rate estimates how long a person with a certain ailment will survive after obtaining a diagnosis in comparison to those who do not have the condition.

If the 5-year relative survival rate is 70%, it signifies that a person with the ailment has a 70% chance of living for 5 years as someone who does not have the condition.

According to the American Cancer Society, the 5-year relative survival rate for stage 4 breast cancer is 28% for women and 22% for men.

The type of breast cancer a person has can also affect the 5-year relative survival rate. For example, the 5-year survival rate for a person with triple-negative breast cancer is 12%, and it is 19% for those with inflammatory breast cancer.

According to the American Cancer Society, survival statistics are dependent on a number of criteria but do not account for every facet of a person’s health and well-being.

The following are some aspects that survival rates do not consider:

  • the person’s age and overall health
  • the size of the tumor
  • the cancer’s response to treatment
  • the cancer’s HER2 status
  • the presence of hormone receptors on cancer cells
  • new treatment options that improve the long-term outlook

As a result, it’s essential to keep in mind that these figures are estimations. A person might inquire about how their disease is going to effect them from a healthcare practitioner.

Is it treatable?

Experts consider stage 4 breast cancer to be incurable, according to a 2016 report. Treatments, on the other hand, can assist to relieve symptoms, decrease the tumor, and extend survival time.

A person with stage 4 breast cancer should consult with a specialist to discover the best therapy choices for them.

Symptoms

The specific symptoms that a person may encounter depend on where the cancer is located.

The following are some examples of potential symptoms:

  • bone pain
  • issues with balance
  • weight loss
  • weakness anywhere throughout the body
  • a constant dry cough
  • confusion
  • loss of appetite
  • seizures
  • severe headaches
  • issues with vision
  • a constant state of nausea

Spread to bones

When breast cancer spreads to the bones, it can cause:

  • new and noticeable pain that comes and goes to begin with but becomes constant over time
  • fractures, which cause sudden and severe pain
  • back or neck pain
  • weakness and numbness
  • difficulty urinating
  • difficulty passing bowel movements
  • fatigue
  • nausea
  • weakness
  • loss of appetite
  • dehydration

Spread to brain

Symptoms related to cancer that spread to the brain include:

  • headaches
  • memory problems
  • seizures
  • changes in personality and mood
  • stroke
  • slurred speech
  • blurred vision
  • dizziness
  • issues with balance

Spread to liver

When breast cancer spreads to the liver, it can cause symptoms such as:

  • fatigue
  • weakness
  • swelling in the legs
  • weight loss
  • lack of appetite
  • jaundice
  • abdominal pain

Spread to lungs

If breast cancer spreads to the lungs, a person may experience:

  • shortness of breath
  • a persistent cough
  • wheezing
  • coughing up blood and mucus
  • pain in the lung

Treatment 

Stage 4 breast cancer cannot be cured with treatment. The treatment’s goal is to:

  • slow down and control the growth of the cancer
  • relieve any symptoms
  • increase life expectancy and quality of life

Researchers are continually exploring for new ways to treat stage 4 breast cancer.

Currently, the most common treatments that doctors may recommend include:

Stage 4 breast cancer may take both a physical and emotional toll on a person. An important part of treatment is helping the person cope with the emotions and stress connected with the diagnosis.

Palliative care may also be an option. This sort of care gives an extra layer of assistance to people with serious diseases and their families. It helps treat physical and mental problems and can optimize the person’s quality of life while they live with advanced cancer.

Some potential approaches for mental health care include:

  • reaching out to family and friends
  • talking with a social worker
  • having regular meetings with a psychologist or psychiatrist
  • joining support groups

BreastCancer.org recommends obtaining professional and experienced counselors and workers wherever feasible. However, it also indicates that people who are having problems paying may wish to seek therapy through a psychologist training program or clinic.

Chance of remission and recurrence

When cancer goes into remission, tests that seek for cancer cannot detect it. A doctor may refer to this pathological complete response.

Treatment may also produce partial remission. This suggests that therapy has destroyed a portion of the cancer but that testing can still discover the cancer.

Stage 4 breast cancer will not go away completely. However, Breastcancer.org states that therapy can help manage the cancer for years. It states that the cancer might be aggressive at times and go into remission at other times.

Because stage 4 breast cancer is not treatable, it will not vanish and then resurface.

Conclusion

Having stage 4 breast cancer indicates that cancer cells from the breast tissue have spread to distant areas of the body.

Signs and symptoms might vary dependent on where the cancer has progressed to. However, they may include bone discomfort, unexplained weight loss, lack of appetite, and severe headaches, among others.

Stage 4 breast cancer is not currently treatable. However, certain treatment methods can delay the spread of the cancer, reduce the symptoms, and prolong survival.

Sources

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Breast Cancer

What to know about HER2-negative breast cancer

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HER2-negative breast cancer suggests that the cancerous cells do not have high amounts of the protein HER2. There are a variety of therapy options for this form of breast cancer, but the prognosis varies.

Understanding an HR-positive or HER2-negative

Human epidermal growth factor receptor 2 is abbreviated as “HER2.” It could be referring to the HER2 gene or the protein that the gene produces.

HER2 receptors are proteins found on the surface of breast cells. They normally aid in the regulation of healthy breast tissue growth and repair.

When the HER2 gene malfunctions and starts generating too many copies of itself, HER2 proteins on the surface of breast cells are overproduced. This can lead to cancer that is HER2-positive.

This page offers an overview of HER2-negative breast tumors, which are cancers that develop for reasons other than a defective HER2 gene.

We detail the treatment choices for various forms of HER2-negative cancers, as well as the prognosis and survival rates.

Diagnosis

A doctor will need to ascertain the type of breast cancer a person has in order to make a diagnosis. This entails extracting a small amount of breast tissue for testing during surgery or a biopsy.

Testing indicates which genes and proteins are involved in the progression of cancer. This aids in determining the best therapy alternatives.

Types

The presence or lack of hormone receptors on the surface of cancer cells is used to differentiate HER2-negative breast cancer into two types in most studies:

  • hormone receptor-positive (HR-positive) breast cancer
  • triple-negative breast cancer

Hormones such as estrogen and progesterone have a function in the development of healthy breast tissue. Individual protein receptors on the surface of breast cells exist for each hormone. Hormones are taken up by the receptors, which tell the cells to expand.

When a cancer is HR-positive, the cells proliferate and multiply by using estrogen, progesterone, or both. When a malignancy is classified as triple-negative, it lacks these hormone receptors.

As we’ll see below, there are several subtypes of these cancers:

Luminal (HR-positive) breast cancers

Breast cancers that grow in the inner, or luminal, cells are known as Luminal Breast Cancers. The mammary ducts are lined by these cells.

HR-positive Luminal cancers are those that involve at least one type of hormone receptor.

Luminal A (LA) and Luminal B (LB) are the two kinds of luminal breast cancer (LB).

The main difference between the two types is that LA cells have a lower concentration of a protein known as Ki-67. This protein regulates the rate at which tumor cells develop. As a result, LA malignancies grow more slowly than LB cancers and have a better prognosis.

Luminal A breast cancer

According to certain research, LA breast cancer accounts for 30–45 percent of all breast cancers.

The following are some of the characteristics of LA cancer:

  • cells that are HER2-negative
  • cells that test positive for estrogen receptors
  • lower levels of Ki-67
  • low-grade tumors

Luminal B breast cancer

According to some estimates, LB breast cancer accounts for 10–20 percent of all breast cancers.

HER2-negative or HER2-positive LB cancers exist. It is also characterized by the following characteristics:

  • cells that test positive for estrogen receptors
  • higher levels of Ki-67
  • higher-grade tumors
  • larger tumors
  • a higher chance of spreading to a lymph node

Triple-negative breast cancer

Approximately 10–15% of all breast cancers are triple-negative. Triple-negative breast cancer tests negative for three receptors:

  • HER2
  • estrogen
  • progesterone

Triple-negative breast cancer is more common in:

  • people who have a mutation in the BRCA1 gene
  • Black people
  • people below the age of 50
  • premenopausal people

General treatments

Several factors influence the type of treatment a person receives, including:

  • the stage of cancer
  • whether and where the cancer has spread
  • whether there are hormone receptors in the cells
  • genetic mutations
  • symptoms
  • previous treatments
  • overall health

Surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, bisphosphonates, or a combination of these treatments may be required for those with HER2-negative breast cancer.

Surgery

Most people with breast cancer have surgery to remove the tumor. There are two main types of surgery:

Breast-conserving surgery: This involves the removal of the tumor and some of the surrounding healthy breast tissue.

Mastectomy: This involves the total removal of the affected breast.

Chemotherapy

Chemotherapy medications work by limiting cancer cells’ capacity to divide and develop.

For triple-negative breast cancers, chemotherapy is more common than for luminal breast cancers. Both forms, however, may require chemotherapy, especially if the tumor is larger than 1 centimeter (cm) ,

Radiation therapy

High-intensity X-rays are used to kill cancer cells in this treatment.

Bisphosphonates

Some people may be prescribed bisphosphonates by their doctors to help prevent breast cancer from spreading to their bones.

Bisphosphonate medications include zoledronic acid and sodium clodronate, to name a few.

Specific treatments

Some luminal breast cancer treatments will not be appropriate for triple-negative breast cancer, and vice versa.

Specific treatment methods for both categories are listed in the sections below:

Options for luminal (HR-positive) breast cancer

Hormone therapy is given to the majority of people who have luminal or other forms of HR-positive breast cancer. This is referred to as endocrine therapy by others.

Because it is HR-negative, triple-negative breast cancer does not respond to hormone therapy.

Anti-estrogen therapy

Anti-estrogen therapy works by inhibiting estrogen from binding to breast cancer cells’ estrogen receptors.

Anti-estrogen therapy is divided into four categories:

  • selective estrogen-receptor response modulators, such as tamoxifen
  • aromatase inhibitors
  • estrogen-receptor downregulators, such as fulvestrant (Faslodex)
  • luteinizing hormone releasing agents, including goserelin (Zoladex) and leuprolide (Lupron), prevent the ovaries from producing estrogen

The type of anti-estrogen therapy a person receives depends on various factors, including:

  • the stage of the breast cancer
  • whether the person has any other medical conditions
  • whether the person has been through menopause

A person usually continues hormone therapy for at least 5 years.

Other hormone therapies

HR-positive breast cancer may not respond to the therapy listed above in some circumstances. As a result, for more advanced cancer, a doctor may consider one of the hormone therapy listed below:

  • progestin medications, such as megestrol (Megace)
  • an anabolic steroid, such as fluoxymesterone (Halotestin)

Targeted therapies

Targeted therapies target specific genetic alterations that contribute to the growth and spread of cancer. These medications are frequently used in conjunction with hormone therapy.

Treatments for HR-positive, HER2-negative metastatic breast cancer target and block CDK4/6, a protein thought to drive tumor growth, according to specialists.

CDK4/6 inhibitors include the following:

  • abemaciclib (Verzenio)
  • palbociclib (Ibrance)
  • ribociclib (Kisqali)

Targeted therapy is paired with a gonadotropin-releasing hormone analog or ovarian suppression in men and women who have not yet reached menopause.

Triple-negative breast cancer treatment options

The following therapies may be used instead of or in addition to the more general cancer treatments listed above for some persons with triple-negative breast cancer:

Immunotherapy

Immunotherapy medications like atezolizumab (Tecentriq) and pembrolizumab (Keytruda) assist the immune system in attacking cancer cells.

Cancer cells can hide from the immune system thanks to proteins like the PD-L1 protein. Tecentriq inhibits the development of PD-L1, a protein that the immune system uses to recognize and kill cancer cells.

Therapy that is specific to the patient

In triple-negative breast cancer, doctors also use targeted medicines to treat specific genetic abnormalities. For those who have already had two treatments, the medication sacituzumab govitecan-hziy (Trodelvy) was approved in 2020. It’s an antibody drug conjugate, which means it binds to cancer cells and kills them.

Inhibitors of PARP

Triple-negative breast cancer is caused by a mutation in the BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes in certain patients. PARP inhibitors may be beneficial to these folks.

Poly ADP-ribose polymerase is the acronym for poly ADP-ribose polymerase. It’s a DNA-repair enzyme that works in both healthy and malignant cells.

PARP inhibitors prevent the PARP enzyme from working properly. Cancers with a BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene mutation have a tougher time surviving DNA damage as a result of this. Olaparib (Lynparza) and talazoparib are two examples (Talzenna).

Outlook

The percentage of people who are alive after a given amount of time after being diagnosed with cancer is referred to as the cancer survival rate.

The survival rate for breast cancer is determined by a variety of factors, including the tumour’s grade and stage.

Under a microscope, the grade indicates how aberrant the malignant cells appear. Cells that appear abnormal proliferate and spread more quickly.

The cancer’s stage refers to how big it is and how far it has spread. This is normally measured on a scale of 0 to 4 by doctors.

Cancers at stage 0 are ones that are still in the early stages of development and have not spread to neighboring cells. Cancers in stage 4 are the most advanced and have the worst prognosis.

Cancer survival rates are also influenced by the following factors:

  • whether the cancer is HR-positive or HR-negative
  • the person’s age at diagnosis
  • the person’s overall health

Cancer-specific survival rates

Survival statistics for several forms of breast cancer are included in a 2019 overview of breast cancer therapy.

HR-positive cancers, such as luminal cancers, had a greater survival rate than triple-negative breast cancers, according to the findings.

Stage 1 cancer survival rates

Stage 1 HR-positive breast cancer has a 5-year survival rate of roughly 99 percent.

Furthermore, because LA breast cancer has lower Ki-67 levels than LB breast cancer, it grows more slowly. As a result, clinicians are more likely to discover LA cancer at an earlier stage, giving patients a somewhat better prognosis.

Stage 1 triple-negative breast cancer has an 85 percent 5-year survival rate. These cancers have a faster growth rate and respond to fewer treatments.

Metastatic cancer survival rates

Breast cancers can spread to other parts of the body, which is known as metastasis. The prognosis for metastatic cancer is substantially worse.

Following a diagnosis of metastatic cancer, people with HR-positive breast cancer usually live for another 4–5 years. Following the same diagnosis, people with triple-negative breast cancer may live an extra year.

It’s crucial to keep in mind that survival statistics are estimations based on the outcomes of people who have had cancers that are similar to yours.

However, cancer survival rates are influenced by a variety of complex circumstances. These variables will differ from one person to the next.

Summary

HR-positive breast cancer and triple-negative breast cancer are the two main kinds of HER2-negative breast cancer. Treatments for various cancers differ in some ways.

Breast cancers that are HR-positive have a better prognosis than cancers that are triple-negative.

People can use survival rates to estimate how successful their treatment will be. People should, however, speak with their doctor for further information regarding their specific treatment plan and prognosis.

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