Demystifying Metastatic Breast Cancer

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In the spirit of the National Metastatic Breast Cancer Awareness Day that falls on October 13th, the Quebec Breast Cancer Foundation would like to take the opportunity to shed light on this challenging disease: its occurrence, how it develops, and the ways it can be managed.

Breast Cancer cells have the ability to spread locally within the breast tissue and to nearby lymph nodes. When cancer cells migrate to more distant organs, the patient presents with Metastatic Breast Cancer (MBC), which is also known as advanced Breast Cancer or Stage 4 Breast Cancer. The main target organs of MBC include: bone, brain, liver, lung, skin, and distant lymph nodes.

Breast Cancer cells spread throughout the body in several steps:

Demystifying Metastatic Breast Cancer

Breast Cancer cells invade normal tissue in the vicinity of the breast tumour to enter the lymph nodes and/or the blood vessels.

Demystifying Metastatic Breast Cancer

Through the bloodstream and/or the lymphatic system, cancer cells reach distant organs where they leave the vessels to invade the new site

Demystifying Metastatic Breast Cancer

At the new tissue, cells establish a colony and grow to form a new tumour that, like the initial breast tumour, evolves to support itself with blood supply.

Although there is no current cure for MBC, survival of MBC patients has improved over the years. Many treatment options are available to patients in order to manage arising side effects, slow disease progression, prolong their survival, and enhance their quality of life. By monitoring side effects and adopting a healthy and active lifestyle, affected individuals can live for months, and even years, with MBC. 

Research efforts are put forward in the hope of fully unravelling the mechanisms underlying MBC, the best approaches to treat it, and, more importantly, the potential strategies to prevent it. Patients are encouraged to consider participating in a clinical trial where novel treatments are being tested. Immunotherapy-based treatments have been approved for treating advanced skin and lung cancers. Clinical trials investigating the use of immunotherapy in the treatment of MBC are underway – with promising preliminary results.

For current clinical trials in Quebec, consult the Rossy Cancer Network and the Groupe d’étude en oncologie du Québec (GEOQ) websites.

Visit our webpage to learn more about MBC signs, symptoms, treatment options, as well as available support channels.

If you have questions about MBC, you can call our clinical nurse on our support line: 1-877-990-7171, ext. 250.