What does ‘metastasised’ mean?

Do you know what it really means when breast cancer has ‘metastasised’? If you are unsure, please watch this short animation that explains what ‘metastatic breast cancer’ really means and remember that early detection is the best protection for surviving this disease.

Metastatic breast cancer, also called secondary breast cancer, is cancer that has spread from the breasts to other areas of the body, like the liver, lungs, or bone. This type of breast cancer accounts for most breast cancer deaths. Learn more in this helpful animation courtesy of Breakthrough Breast Cancer.

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Described simply, metastatic cancer is cancer that spreads from the place where it first started to another place in the body. The spread of cancer to a new part of the body is called metastasis. It is also called stage IV or advanced breast cancer.


So how the f-bomb does cancer spread, you wonder? Quite easily, I’m afraid. Here’s how it works: cancer cells break away from the primary tumor and travel to other parts of the body through the bloodstream or the lymph system. Many of the cancer cells die during transportation, but some attach themselves to the wall of a blood or lymph vessel and move into a new organ where they settle and begin growing into new tumors. The cancer cells find a location in the body where they can grow, thrive, and avoid attacks from the body’s immune system. The ability of cancer cells to successfully metastasize depends on its individual properties. In other words, just because cancer cells reach a new location does not mean they will begin to grow into tumors. In some cases, the cancer cells lie dormant for many years in the new location before they grow, if at all. Interesting, right?


The spread of cancer is not a haphazard process. The most common sites for metastatic breast cancer are the bones, lungs, liver, or brain. Metastatic breast cancer usually occurs months or years after a person has completed treatment for stage I, II, or III breast cancer. The risk of breast cancer reoccurring varies from person to person and generally depends on the biology of the tumor and the stage of the breast cancer at the time of the original diagnosis.


Unfortunately, there isn’t always an answer. The risk of breast cancer spreading to other parts of the body varies from person to person. It generally depends on the biology of the tumor and the stage of the breast cancer at the time of the original diagnosis. There are clinical and lifestyle things that can be done to reduce the risk of this happening, e.g., healthy eating, maintaining a healthy weight, aromatase inhibiting medication, oophorectomy (the surgical removal of ovaries).


The Silver Lining here is that even though the cancer is incurable, it is treatable.  People live long and full lives with metastatic cancer. Treatment for metastatic breast cancer generally depends on the size and location of the metastases, certain features of the tumor cells, your age and general health, the types of treatment you may have had in the past, and your current symptoms.  Common treatments include chemotherapy, biological therapy, targeted therapy, hormonal therapy, surgery, and radiation.Patients may also want to consider participating in a clinical trail in order to help researcher’s learn more about metastatic breast cancer and how to treat it. Some new treatments are only available through a clinical trial. I highly suggest asking your doctors to help you weigh the pros and cons of participation.

Article first published by The Silver Pen ©