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Metastatic Breast Cancer Diagnosis and Treatment from Top New Jersey Physicians

What Is Metastatic Breast Cancer?

Metastatic breast cancer, or stage IV breast cancer, is breast cancer that has spread to other parts of the body, most commonly the:

  • Bones
  • Brain
  • Liver
  • Lungs

It occurs when breast cancer cells divide uncontrollably and reach the lymph or blood vessel system where they then can spread to other parts of the body, usually forming a tumor or mass of cancer cells.

Cancer is always classified according to where it originates. Thus, cancer that originates in the breasts and travels to the bones or other parts of the body is still called breast cancer and treated as such.

When Is Metastatic Breast Cancer Diagnosed?

Metastatic breast cancer can be diagnosed as:

  • De novo. Metastatic breast cancer is made as the first diagnosis. This occurs in about 6 percent of women and 9 percent of men.
  • Distant recurrence. The most common metastatic diagnosis, after initial breast cancer treatment. Recurrence refers to cancer returning after treatment and spreading.

Metastatic Breast Cancer Symptoms

General metastatic breast cancer symptoms include:

  • Fatigue
  • Weight loss
  • Decreased appetite

Other metastatic breast cancer symptoms depend on where cancer cells have invaded.

Bone symptoms may include:

  • Pain
  • Swelling
  • Fragile or easily fractured bones

Brain symptoms may include:

  • Frequent, reoccurring, worsening headaches or pressure
  • Vision difficulties/problems
  • Seizures
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Personality or behavioral changes

Liver symptoms may include:

  • Yellow skin (jaundice)
  • Itchy skin or a rash
  • Stomach aches
  • Loss of appetite
  • Nausea and vomiting

A liver test may show abnormally high liver enzymes.

Lung symptoms may include:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Frequent, persistent cough
  • Chest pain

A chest X-ray may show signs of an abnormality.

Metastatic Breast Cancer Diagnosis

Cancer specialists may use many tests to diagnose metastatic breast cancer.

After reviewing your complete medical history, your doctor may recommend:

  • Blood tests. A complete blood count and a comprehensive metabolic panel.
  • Imaging studies. An MRI, CT, bone scan, and/or PET (depending on where the cancer is located)
  • Bronchoscopy. May be used to visualize the lungs when there is a concerning spot there.
  • Biopsy. Used to remove a small sample of the suspicious tissue and later analyze it for cancer.
  • A tap. Used to remove fluid from the symptomatic area. A pleural tap removes fluid from the lungs. A spinal tap removes fluid from the spinal cord.

Metastatic Breast Cancer Treatment

Metastatic breast cancer cannot be cured. Instead, treatment is focused on preventing cancer from spreading and managing symptoms. Systemic therapy, a therapy used to treat the entire body, is the main treatment option.

Any of the following may be included in a systemic therapy treatment plan:

  • Chemotherapy. Drugs are used to kill cancer cells.
  • Hormone therapy. Stops the growth of cancer cells that rely on specific hormones by blocking hormone receptors.
  • Targeted therapy. Targets changes in cancer cells that help them grow, divide and spread.
  • Immunotherapy. Uses the body's immune system to locate and kill cancer cells.

A systemic treatment plan is created by considering:

  • Where cancer has spread
  • Previous breast cancer treatments
  • Symptoms
  • Cancer cell biology (how the cells look and behave)

Local therapies, treatments for specific areas of the body, like surgery or radiation may not be as effective treatment options for metastatic breast cancer. However, some patients may still receive them.

In some cases, clinical trials may allow patients to try new treatment options that are not available to the public.

Living with Metastatic Breast Cancer

The goal of treatment is to control metastatic breast cancer for as long as possible. Today’s treatment options allow patients to live well while receiving ongoing treatment for metastatic breast cancer and any side effects of treatment. Through clinical trials, researchers are learning more about metastatic breast cancer and treatments are becoming more effective.

Why Choose Us for Metastatic Breast Cancer Care

State-of-the-Art Cancer Treatment

RWJBarnabas Health, in partnership with Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey, the state’s only NCI-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center, meets the highest standards in breast cancer research, treatment, prevention, and education in the nation. We offer the most advanced treatment options, including chemotherapy, radiation therapy, stem cell transplants, targeted therapy, and access to clinical trials, many of which are not available elsewhere.

New Jersey’s Largest Network of Cancer Specialists

We offer access to New Jersey’s largest network of breast cancer specialists, including nationally and internationally recognized hematologists/oncologists, radiation oncologists, advanced practice nurses, and oncology support professionals with advanced credentials in cancer specialty care with expertise in blood cancers.

Oncology Nurse Navigators Guide You Through Your Breast Cancer Journey

Nurse navigators help secure appointments, coordinate follow-up visits related to treatments and procedures, and guide you through aspects of survivorship.

Logos of The Rutgers Cancer Center of New Jersey-Rutgers Health and NCI Comprehensive Cancer Center

To schedule an appointment with one of New Jersey’s best breast cancer specialists call 844-CANCERNJ or 844-226-2376.

Patient Stories

  • I normally go to my dermatologist every year for a skin screening. However, because of COVID, I had put off going for the past two years.

    Marysue
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  • "Knowing that I was doing something more helped me mentally...I liked that I was doing something to keep fighting.”

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  • Listen to your body. You know yourself better than anyone else. If you have a problem, take action.

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Patient Stories

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