The very idea of advanced breast cancer can strike a chill into the heart of the person hearing it. But what exactly does it mean when the doctor says a breast cancer is advanced? What is the prognosis of that cancer and possible treatments?
What is advanced breast cancer?
There are various factors which determine the type of prognosis that a cancer has and how far it has advanced. The size of the caner, the extent of its invasiveness, whether there cancer is in the lymph nodes and whether the cancer has metastasized or spread to other parts of the body determines whether or not its advanced breast cancer. Also the advancement may refer to ‘local’ or ‘regional’ advancement.
Breast cancer is said to be “advanced” when it has spread and has reached Stage III and IV of the staging. By the third stage of the cancer, it will have spread to the lymph nodes in the underarm or the collar bones, or to the chest wall and the skin or the breast.
By stage 4 of the cancer, it has spread to areas beyond the breast and the nearby lymph nodes. It can have spread to other organs of the body via the blood stream and may now be present in areas such as the bones, lungs, liver or the brain and the distant lymph nodes.
Inflammatory breast cancer is also considered to be advanced breast cancer. Here the skin of the breast can feel warm to the touch, appear red and inflamed. Also the cancer cells would have spread to the skin and the lymph nodes by this stage.
What is the prognosis of breast cancer at an advanced stage?
The prognosis of advanced cancer is generally poor and the cancer is said to have reached a stage that is thought to be incurable. Treatments of an aggressive nature can and generally are continued, but the fact is that there is not much that can be done for a woman by the time her cancer has reached stage IV.
Science has little that it can do so save a woman by the time her cancer has reached this advanced stage and has metastasized.
The survival rate for advanced breast cancer is about two to three years, and women at this stage of their disease can feel not only hopeless but also very isolated. This is because many women are quite fortunate in their disease prognosis: those who have been detected in the early stages of the disease are likely to survive the disease, overcome it and perhaps live healthy lives, but the same is unfortunately not true for women with advanced or metastasized cancers.
Treatment for advanced breast cancer
Locally advanced cancers of the breast are seen to get some benefit among Stage III patients. Here neo-adjuvant chemotherapy (before surgery) may be used followed by radiation after the surgery followed by more chemotherapy. What treatment is suitable for breast cancer in the advanced stages, and the extent to which it can help prolong a woman’s life can vary greatly in each individual case, and part of the decision is the woman’s own to take: whether the cost and side effects of the therapy are worth the possible benefits.