There are instances in which cancer present in the breast spreads to other parts of the body and this is what is known as secondary breast cancer. This is also known as metastasis of a cancer when the cells of cancer in the breast break away from the tumor and spread to other sites by way of the blood stream or the lymphatic system.
Secondary breast cancer can occur in many places quite distant to the breast, where tumors start to form and begin to cause symptoms.
Depending upon where the breast cancer has spread to, the symptoms that a woman experiences will be different; as will be the kind of treatment that is given for the secondary cancer.
Different from local recurrence
Secondary cancer is different from local recurrence of the breast cancer. Local recurrence is said to occur when a tumor re-grows even after being treated by surgical removal and this can occur many years later even.
This kind of recurrence can be seen in the armpit lymph nodes, in the area below the neck, behind the breast bone, or even the surgical scar where the tumor was originally removed from. The vital difference is that with local recurrence the cancer has not spread to other organs of the body.
Secondary breast cancer that spreads to the lungs
A chest X-ray is used to detect if the breast cancer has spread to the lungs or is there is any fluid buildup in the pleura outside the lungs. A CT scan, an MRI and similar other tests may be required to confirm the diagnosis. Symptoms may include breathlessness and a persistent cough.
Secondary breast cancer that spreads to the bones
Pain is usually the first symptom of the cancer having spread to the bones and the pain is present day and night. Bone damage and weakness resulting in breakage could also be symptoms. A blood test to detect levels of calcium in the blood can help to detect this caner. X-rays, bone scans, as well as CT scans and MRIs may be needed to confirm the diagnosis.
Secondary breast cancer that spreads to the liver
The symptoms that the cancer has spread to the liver may be general tiredness, loss of appetite, nausea and discomfort below the ribs on the right side. The skin and the whites of the eyes may appear yellowish. Ultrasound liver sans can be used to diagnose this kind of cancer. Sometimes CT scans may be required.
Breast cancer that spreads to the brain
The thought of a brain cancer can be terrifying but this kind of secondary cancer is rare. Headaches and nausea are usually the symptoms of this kind of cancer and MRIs or CT scans are required to make a diagnosis.
The key to detecting any kind of secondary breast cancer is to be aware of any new aches and pains that are experienced. Any unexplained symptoms and so on should be reported to the doctors for assessment and to rule out any troubling diagnoses of metastasis or in the alternative so that treatment can be started as soon as possible.