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What are the Early Signs of Metastatic Breast Cancer?

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Metastatic breast cancer is an advanced form of breast cancer that has spread to another part of the body, usually the bones, brain, lungs or liver. When a cancer like this spread, it is still made up of cells from the original cancer site. For example, breast cancer that has spread to the lungs is still made up of breast cancer cells as opposed to lung cancer cells. Metastatic cancer occurs because cancer cells can travel through the body through the bloodstream or the lymph system, which is a channel of nodes and vessels that work to remove bacteria, viruses and cell waste.

It is a common misconception that developing metastatic breast cancer means you are out of options. However, there are many types of ongoing treatment options that can keep this type of cancer under control, and many people continue to live productive lives with breast cancer. Treatment choices can depend on a person’s age, overall health and other medical conditions. The risk associated with metastatic cancer varies according to each person and their body, but it can be helpful to be aware of the early warning signs as you navigate your breast cancer diagnosis.

Different parts of the body display early warning signs of metastasis in different ways. These can include but are not limited to, back, neck or joint pain that is new or worsening, shortness of breath or painful swelling. If you received treatment for breast cancer, these may simply be side effects of your treatment, and it’s important to remember that experiencing these or other symptoms generally does not indicate metastatic breast cancer.

However, if you experience new symptoms, you should always talk to your doctor. It’s great to remember the 3 P’s when managing symptoms:

  • Is it Persistent?
    Persistent symptoms go on for longer than would be expected and never really feel better. 
  • Is it Progressive?
    Progressive means that symptoms gradually worsen, rather than becoming easier to manage.
  • Is it Perplexing?
    Perplexing means that your symptoms seem to come out of nowhere or are unrelated to any existing diagnosis or treatment.

Again, most people will not develop metastatic breast cancer, but it’s always important to manage your overall health and speak to your doctor if you feel anything out of the ordinary.

Learn more about cancer care at Ochsner.

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