Everyone gets a shudder down their spine at the utterance of the word “cancer.” Images, memories, experiences, and fear swell our minds and stop mental traffic for a few moments at the mere mention of the word. Women experience an added chill when we think about breast cancer. Thousands of people have survived the disease, thousands more have died from it, and thousands of millions have been affected by it one way or another — whether through family, friends, co-workers, or strangers, the disease touches everyone in some form. But this month (and every month, hopefully!), our hearts go out to those with the scariest and most devastating form of this life-threatening disease: Metastatic breast cancer patients.
MBC is still breast cancer, it’s just not confined to the breast.
Metastatic breast cancer is the most advanced form of breast cancer (stage IV). The term “metastatic” means that the cancer has spread from the breast into other parts of the body. Cancer cells break off from the primary tumor, enter the bloodstream and lymphatic system, and embed themselves and multiply in distant organs. Breast cancer cells can spread, or metastasize, to almost any part of the body, but most commonly snuggle up in the bones, lungs, liver, and brain. Don’t be fooled — the relocated cancer is still super dangerous and it’s still breast cancer, it’s just not only in the breast anymore. Treatment of this incurable disease tends to focus on alleviating symptoms, extending a woman’s lifetime, and improving her quality of life.
Prevention is the key to saving lives.
While breast cancer caught in the early stages leaves hope of recovery, a patient of metastatic breast cancer (MBC) will likely undergo treatment for the rest of her life. In 10% of breast cancer diagnoses, the cancer has already spread to other parts of the body. In fact, 150,000 people in the United States live with the disease. As you can see, MBC’s prevalence is not extremely high, but it is important to be aware of the the steps you can take to detect it early on, as they are the same steps that also detect normal breast cancer, which is not uncommon at all. The easiest way to make sure you’re not overlooking any potential problems is to follow the guidelines set forth by the American Cancer Society. Women should perform monthly self-examinations of the breasts, attend annual clinical breast exams, and schedule an annual mammography (beginning at age 40).
A way to show you care: watch this!
In honor of Metastatic Breast Cancer Awareness Day, which was October 13th, Living Beyond Breast Cancer, Metastatic Breast Cancer Network, and Genentech have created a video called “Faces of Metastatic Breast Cancer” (“Faces of MBC”). The video features the struggle-filled journeys of four women with MBC and includes nuggets of support and hope from over 700 other women living with the disease. Not only is it inspiring, but it raises support and awareness! See link below – it’s a must-see.