If you have been told you have metastatic breast cancer (MBC), it means that the cancer, which started in your breasts, has spread to other parts of your body such as the bones or lungs. MBC, also referred to as Stage IV breast cancer, is considered to be the most advanced form of the disease.
Finding out that you have MBC can be a very overwhelming experience, as you are now faced with living with cancer for the rest of your life. While there is no cure for MBC, many women are able to live full, productive lives while managing their MBC.
Here are some important points to consider as you manage your treatment journey.
Learn as much as you can about MBC
Any cancer diagnosis can be overwhelming, and being diagnosed with a chronic, progressive form of the disease can be particularly scary. But knowledge is power. Learning about MBC and how it differs from early-stage breast cancer can help you feel more empowered and allow you to work closely with your medical team to make the best decisions about your care.
There are different types of MBC and hormones often play an important role in the development and progression of the disease. One of the most common types of MBC is hormone-receptor positive which means the cancer is fueled by specific hormones (eg, estrogen or progesterone). However, some patients may have the hormone-receptor negative type, which means there are no hormones driving the growth of the tumor. Depending on the type of MBC tumor, different treatment options may be considered to help stop or slow down the progression of the disease.
Talk to your team
As you begin treatment for MBC, you will be surrounded by health care professionals who are working with you to achieve the same goal – to control the cancer and help you maintain a good quality of life. As a central member of your treatment team, your job is to ask questions and let them know how you feel.
Asking questions about your MBC, including learning your tumor’s hormone receptor status, will help you to better understand the unique characteristics of your MBC journey and allow you to actively work with your medical team to identify the best care.
Understand your options
Researchers are constantly working to develop new, effective treatments for cancer. Knowing the specific characteristics of your MBC tumor, such as hormone receptor type, will allow you to make the best possible decisions about your treatment.
Hormone receptor types for MBC tumors can change over time, so it is also important to work with your doctor to periodically conduct tests to confirm if the hormone receptor status of your tumor has changed. This will allow you and your medical team to assess your current course of treatment and determine if any adjustments need to be made.
Seek additional opinions if you don’t feel comfortable
Don’t feel like you have to rush to choose a doctor or treatment plan all in one day. Take your time to make sure you understand your options, and don’t hesitate to reach out to another doctor or oncologist for a second opinion. You need to be confident about your decisions, and a second opinion could be an appropriate step in the process.
Plan to communicate effectively during appointments
Visiting the doctor can be overwhelming, especially if you have a lot of questions or issues you need to discuss. Before your appointment, write down everything you want to talk about. Keep your list handy during the visit and don’t hesitate to write down what the doctor says so you can look back at your notes and remember key points later on.
If you don’t understand what the doctor is telling you, ask him or her to clarify. Be sure to find out what number to call if you have more questions after the appointment is over.
Bring someone you trust with you to the meeting as a second set of ears and to help you take notes.
Share information your way
There is no easy way to tell others you have MBC. You will need to determine how much information you want to share with various family members and friends and what time is best.
Some people may want to hear every detail of your condition and treatment plan, while others may shy away from even basic information. Ultimately, you are in control of how much information you share with everyone in your family and circle of friends.
Find and connect with others on similar journeys
Knowing that you will live with cancer for the rest of your life can be overwhelming and scary. But finding and connecting with others living with MBC who are on similar journeys can help give you inspiration and provide guidance to help you to determine how to best manage your own MBC journey. It may also help to join a support group so you can share your feelings and concerns with others who understand what you are going through.
Your journey through MBC will be uniquely yours. But it is a journey shared by 175,000 women in the United States currently living with metastatic breast cancer.
When a woman is diagnosed with MBC, she often has a number of questions and wants to understand as much as possible about what she can expect when living with this disease.
Reviewed August 11, 2015
by Michele Blacksberg RN
Edited by Jody Smith