Photo: Getty Images
The late Elizabeth Edwards was one of the first women to visibly share her life with the public while in treatment for metastatic breast cancer. She lived an active, public life with the disease for nearly four years. While her life story received a lot of media attention, the disease she experienced did not.
What we hear about breast cancer focuses mainly on treatable forms of the disease, providing positive stories of hope. Metastatic breast cancer - which does not have a cure - is far less visible. A Google search for "breast cancer" displays some 45.5 million results; a search for "metastatic breast cancer" yields 736,000 results. Supporting and empowering women with breast cancer means also understanding this form of the disease.
Metastasis means the spread of cancer. Cancer cells break away from a primary tumor and enter the bloodstream or lymphatic system, therefore spreading to other parts of the body. When these cells form a new tumor in a different organ, the new tumor is a metastatic tumor. For example, if breast cancer spreads to the lungs, the metastatic tumor in the lung is made up of cancerous breast cells, not lung cells.
Metastatic breast cancer, today, is not curable. There is, however, a growing array of medicines and other approaches to control it so a woman can live longer with advanced breast cancer and possibly do many of the activities she enjoys. Experts say often advanced breast cancer can be managed as a chronic condition. You have it, but for the most part can go on with many, if not all, of the activities of daily living.
Living with metastatic breast cancer as an empowered patient means many things, including understanding the disease, knowing testing options and learning how active communication between the patient and her health care team can make a difference.
You can learn this, and more, from a special program produced by Patient Power - http://www.patientpower.info/ - which produces educational programs for patients and is an EmpowHER partner. The program is available at: http://www.patientpower.info/program/understanding-metastatic-breast-cancer