Medically Reviewed by Amy P. Murrell, MD
Metastasized Tumors & Their Treatment
Medically reviewed by Amy Murrell, MD
Margaret sat with her doctor to review her recent mammogram that spotted a problem. “I hope they caught my breast cancer early,” thought Margaret. “Early enough to treat, early enough so it hasn’t spread.”
Detecting breast cancer before it spreads to other parts of the body is one more reason to get regular mammograms.
The sad fact: About 40% of women with breast cancer will also find out that it has already metastasized or spread to “lymph nodes” located under their arms. The underarm “nodes” are the most likely place that breast cancer will first spread. Following involvement of the lymph nodes, breast cancer can spread to distant sites, most commonly bone, the lungs and liver.
When cancer spreads to other body locations, it’s called Stage IV (4) cancer. (Stage One being cancer the earliest; Stages Two and Three, each more advanced.)
“Your personal physician or cancer specialist can often identify enlarged lymph nodes, simply by feeling under your arm,” says McLeod General Surgeon Dr. Amy Murrell. “X-rays can also help identify these nodes. A tissue sample (biopsy) is the final determination as to whether there is cancer in the lymph nodes.”
Dr. Murrell added, “It is unusual to have breast cancer spread to distant organs without first having significant changes in your breast and underarm (axilla).
If the cancer spreads to the bones, the most common symptom is pain or unexpected fractures. Brain metastases cause a variety of symptoms – headaches, unsteadiness or even seizures.
There are some treatments available to control the growth of metastatic tumors, relieve the symptoms and help extend the patient’s life.
Chemotherapy, surgery, radiation therapy or some combination of these and other treatments can be used to treat the cancer. Decisions about the type of treatments will depend on the size and location of the tumors, the type of treatments the patients has already received, and the patient’s age and general health.
ACTION YOU CAN TAKE.
Early detection of your breast cancer is the best way to avoid metastatic breast cancer. Today’s mammograms offer clearer pictures, with your doctor often receiving your results the same day as the mammogram.
Have a cancer question? Ask a cancer specialist.
Sources include: McLeod Health, National Cancer Institute, American Cancer Society, Cancer Research (UK), National Comprehensive Cancer Network, Susan G. Komen Foundation