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Breast cancer is the most common form of cancer among women.
The American Cancer Society (ACS) estimates 281,550 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in 2021. The average risk for a woman developing breast cancer in her lifetime is 13 percent, or a 1 in 8 chance, according to the ACS.
For many women, a diagnosis of breast cancer could also include that it has metastasized, or spread to other areas of her body (typically the liver, lungs, bones or brain).
Hearing you have metastatic breast cancer can be overwhelming and frightening. Advances in treatment, however, provide women a way to manage the disease and live productive lives for many years.
“The good news is that there is so much research for breast cancer that we have all of these great treatment options that have been changing the outcome for patients,” says Amaryllis Gil, M.D., a hematologist and oncologist and Associate Medical Director of Elmhurst Hospital, Nancy W. Knowles Cancer Center.
Though the cancer has spread to other areas of the body, treatment for metastatic breast cancer still focuses on the origination point. Your diagnosis will include testing to determine what type of breast cancer you have, if the BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutations are present and next generation sequencing to treat any mutations in the cancer cells.
Typically, breast cancers are treated according to the receptors on the cancer cell surface. Treatments may include chemotherapy, immunotherapy and/or targeted therapy. If being treated for a BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutation, targeted therapy is often used.
Treatment, however, varies depending on the type of cancer:
Also, there are various clinical trials underway for metastatic breast cancer:
View more breast cancer clinical trials.
Stage IV treatment options are palliative, not curative, in nature, Dr. Gil says. But with advances in treatment options, she says many patients are seeing their prognosis outlooks described in years, not months.
“There’s been an explosion in treatment options,” she says, adding that controlling the cancer and its symptoms helps improve a patient’s quality of life. “There is better supportive medicine and better supportive care for patients.”
Communicating with your care team about your health and any side effects you may experience is key, says Dr. Gil. Be sure to let your physician know of any problems you may be experiencing.
Breast cancer is a personal journey that requires individual attention, expertise and, most of all, a team to rally around you. In our nationally accredited Breast Cancer Center, our breast cancer experts will partner with you every step of the way.
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