What are the Different Types of Treatment for Metastatic Breast Cancer?

Susan Grindstaff

Treatment for metastatic breast cancer could include radiation therapy, chemotherapy, and surgery. Though metastatic breast cancer is typically inoperable, sometimes surgery is performed to relieve pain and other symptoms associated with the disease. Surgery is generally not combined with chemical or radiation therapy, because many patients undergoing these therapies become too weak to withstand the stress of surgery. New, more advanced treatments are constantly being researched and tested; however, it takes a great deal of time for new drugs to go from testing to market availability.

Mammograms are performed to detect the presence of breast cancer.
Mammograms are performed to detect the presence of breast cancer.

Physicians began using radiation therapy as a treatment for metastatic breast cancer in the 1920s, and in those days, science did not have a full understanding of radiation and its effects on human tissue. The treatment was sometimes as dangerous as the disease itself. With many important advances in the field, radiation therapy is now much safer and effective. Affected cancerous areas can typically be treated without damaging surrounding tissue. Radiation therapy is performed either by using external radiation or by implanting radiation inside the body near the tumor growth.

Weight loss and bone pain can be symptoms of metastatic breast cancer.
Weight loss and bone pain can be symptoms of metastatic breast cancer.

Chemotherapy as a treatment for metastatic breast cancer involves a "stew" of different cancer drugs delivered by an intravenous drip. By delivering the drugs directly into the bloodstream, the effects are usually more intense and often achieve better results. Hormone therapy is sometimes included in the chemotherapy schedule. Studies seem to show that at certain dosage levels, synthetic hormones are a viable treatment for metastatic breast cancer. Used in conjunction with chemotherapy, they sometimes have the effect of shrinking cancerous tumors.

Metastatic defines a condition where cancer begins in one area and then spreads to other parts of the body. If not detected early enough, breast cancer can potentially spread to any other part of the body. Most commonly, it first moves to the bone and bone marrow and then to the liver. When this happens, aggressive treatment for metastatic breast cancer is usually the next step.

Weight loss, severe headaches, and bone pain can all be symptoms of metastatic breast cancer. Loss of appetite and difficulty breathing are also sometimes associated with the disease. These symptoms may or may not be present, however, and could indicate many other conditions other than cancer.

Most experts agree that the best defense against breast cancer is early detection. If detected in the early stages, breast cancer can often be cured, or sent into remission. In addition, early stage cancer generally responds very well to surgical removal. Methods of early detection include mammograms, which are given by a physician, and self-examination.

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