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Life with Metastatic Breast Cancer: How Advanced Therapies Can Help You Post Relapse/Recurrence

By Dr. Ajay Gogai Oncologist, AIIMS Delhi

Diagnosis of breast cancer is a life-altering moment, but what can be even more daunting is the possibility of recurrence. Research says there is a up to a 30% to 60% chance of relapse within 10 years of the first breast cancer prognosis. Meanwhile, a pressing concern in India is the significant delay patients face in accessing healthcare services, resulting in over 60% of breast cancer diagnoses occurring at advanced stages, typically stage II or stage III. This is worrisome because the stage at which breast cancer is initially diagnosed can influence the likelihood of recurrence or metastasis. For instance, those with Stage III breast cancer face a higher risk of recurrent breast cancer compared to individuals with Stage I or Stage II diagnoses. Despite significant advancements in breast cancer survival rates over the years, the fear of relapse and life after a metastasis still looms large for many.

But first, let’s understand what does it mean when your cancer has metastasized?

Metastatic breast cancer (mBC), often referred to as stage IV, signifies the spread of cancer beyond the breast and nearby lymph nodes, reaching organs like the lungs, liver, or brain. If you receive a diagnosis of mBC, it’s completely normal to experience anxiety and fear. However, it’s crucial to keep in mind that statistics are just numbers, and each person’s situation is unique. The available treatments are designed not only to extend survival but also to maintain the quality of life for those facing this challenging journey.

Understanding treatment options and living with mBC

A prevalent misconception revolves around the assumption that a diagnosis of metastatic breast cancer implies a mere few months left to live. However, this notion, though understandable, does not align with the full picture. It’s essential to recognize that advanced therapies can play a pivotal role. These treatments have the potential to decelerate cancer growth and alleviate many of the associated symptoms. It’s entirely possible for individuals with certain types of metastatic breast cancer to live for several years, even after the cancer has spread beyond the breast.

Dealing with breast cancer that comes back can be tougher to handle, but it doesn’t automatically mean it’s worse than the first time. Having detailed and open conversations with your doctor about your metastatic breast cancer is of paramount importance. These discussions provide the foundation for understanding your specific diagnosis and therefore will inform your treatment plan. It is essential for patients to stay informed about the ever-evolving landscape of treatment options. For example, research shows that when coupled with traditional hormonal treatments, advanced therapies can be extremely effective in fighting the cancer. Your healthcare provider can tailor a treatment plan that aligns with your individual needs and preferences only when they have a comprehensive understanding of your condition.

In addition, when choosing a treatment plan, the patients should prioritize lifestyle choices that can help improve their quality of life and extend survival. This includes embracing a healthy diet, incorporating regular exercise, effectively managing stress, and ensuring adequate rest, all in alignment with their personalized treatment plan. Equally pivotal in the journey of healing is establishing a robust support system, encompassing family, friends, and healthcare professionals.

While a metastatic breast cancer diagnosis can be scary, it is not synonymous with hopelessness. As technology and medical knowledge continue to advance, the outlook and treatment for metastatic breast cancer will keep improving, offering renewed hope and an extended life to those facing this formidable diagnosis.

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