Insight on metastatic breast cancer treatment

When breast cancer spreads beyond the breast and the lymph nodes, it’s known as metastatic breast cancer. Most commonly, breast cancer spreads to the brain, bones, lung and liver. Wherever it spreads, metastatic breast cancer brings a unique set of physical and mental challenges. To better understand metastatic breast cancer, including the best ways to cope with a diagnosis and treatment, we spoke with Jennifer Litton, M.D. Here’s what she had to say. Who is most at risk for metastatic breast cancer? Breast cancer survivors who had large, aggressive tumors, those whose tumor spread to multiple lymph nodes under the arm, and those whose disease didn’t respond well to therapy given prior to surgery are more likely to develop metastatic breast cancer. Also, if breast cancer goes undiagnosed and untreated for a long time, a patient is more likely to eventually be diagnosed with metastatic disease. How is metastatic breast cancer typically treated? Because breast cancer isn’t a single disease, treatment can be complex. There isn’t a standard step A, B, C, then D. Treatment depends on the subtype of breast cancer, so we’ll look at the patient’s biology, the location of the tumor as well as the patient’s current symptoms. Because there isn’t a clear treatment path, patients can get frustrated. It can be hard not always having a clear plan of what’s next, but that’s why we recommend patients talk openly with their care team about their concerns and potential next steps should their current treatment stop working. This is also why we encourage patients to seek other types of support, such as supportive care and integrative...