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Metastatic breast cancer can spread anywhere in your body

October 18, 2022 – Whether your doctor told you that your breast cancer has spread, he may have used the word “metastasis”. When a person is diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer, it means the cancer has moved to other parts of the body beyond their breast.

But what exactly does this mean and where can one breast cancer the cells go? Oncologist Erin Roesch, MDa breast medical oncologist associated with the Cleveland Clinic Taussig Cancer Institute, explains where breast cancer is most likely to spread and how the type of breast cancer you have plays a role.

Unfortunately, breast cancer spreads silently, so you won’t know if it has started to spread until you show signs or symptoms in the affected part of your body where it traveled.

For example, if your cancer has spread to your lungs, you may experience constant coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath, or pain in the affected lung. If it spreads to your bones, you may experience arthritis-like discomfort in your hip or back. You may also experience an increase in bone fractures resulting from minor falls or sudden loss of appetite or weight.

If you have symptoms of metastasis or are concerned that your breast cancer has spread to other parts of your body, you should tell your healthcare provider who can determine whether or not your cancer has spread. and what is the most effective treatment available.

In theory, breast cancer can spread to any part of your body, but it most often spreads to the lymph nodes, lungs, liver, bones, and sometimes the brain. Keep in mind, however, that even if your breast cancer spreads to other parts of your body, it is still considered breast cancer. For example, if breast cancer spreads to your lungs, it does not mean that you also have lung cancer.

Dr. Roesch explains how metastatic breast cancer can affect different parts of your body:

The lymph nodes under your arm are the first place where breast cancer is most likely to spread. It can also move into the tissues surrounding your breast, such as in your chest, or it can travel up to your collarbone or lower neck. Breast cancer is only considered metastatic if it has spread beyond these glands and into other parts of your body. If your breast cancer has spread to this area, you may experience pain, swollen lymph nodes, or a lump in your armpit.

Breast cancer that has spread to your lungs can cause shortness of breath, chest pain, persistent coughing, or coughing up blood. Cancer can also grow to fill the space between your lungs and chest wall, causing fluid to back up into your lungs.

If your cancer has spread to your liver, you may experience stomach pain, bloating, a bloated stomach, or feeling full, even if you haven’t eaten recently. You might also experience loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, or jaundice, which is a yellowing of your skin.

Breast cancer that spreads to your brain can cause a variety of neurological symptoms, including headaches, vision changes, dizziness, lightheadedness, and mental confusion or brain fog.

Breast cancer can spread to your bones and weaken them. You may experience bone aches, pains or fatigue. You may also be more prone to bone fractures or fractures due to cancer cells embedded in your bones or spinal cord.

Even if your breast cancer has spread to other parts of your body, that doesn’t necessarily mean it isn’t treatable. If the cancer cannot be removed, the goal of treatment is to reduce symptoms, improve your quality of life, and prolong your survival.

“Some people live with breast cancer for several years as they learn to adapt and accept treatment for an indefinite period,” notes Dr. Roesch. “Your cancer team will help you learn and cope with what you can expect from this trip.

Exit: Cleveland Clinic

Michael M. Tomlin