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
There you'll find an extensive audio program, as well as transcript, on understanding metastatic breast cancer. There are important tumor characteristics that determine the likely prognosis and best management approach, including whether the cancer cell has estrogen and/or progesterone hormone receptors. After this program, you will be able to:
• Know the difference between early stage breast cancer, recurrent breast cancer and metastatic breast cancer
• Understand the key factors in determining the prognosis in metastatic breast cancer
• Be able to discuss their diagnostic workup and treatment approach with your physician and request tests as needed
• Know what support and information resources are available to you
The program includes interviews with two renowned experts:
Lillie Shockney, a registered nurse, two-time breast cancer survivor and the administrative director of the Johns Hopkins Avon Foundation Breast Center in Baltimore since 1977.
Dr. William Gradishar, an oncologist at Northwestern Memorial Hospital, director of Breast Medical Oncology at the Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center of Northwestern University and professor of Medicine at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine.
The program is the first in a three-part series. You can listen to them online; download them and also read transcripts.
Part One: Understanding Metastatic Breast Cancer
Part Two: The Treatment Landscape for Metastatic Breast Cancer
Part Three: Why Clinical Trials are So Important for Metastatic Breast Cancer
The entire series can be found here: