Stage 4 breast cancer refers to tumors that have metastasized (spread) from the breast area. In this stage, cancer cells have likely traveled through the lymph nodes to organs such as the lungs, bones, skin, and others. This disease is also called metastatic breast cancer or advanced breast cancer.
Stage 4 is the most serious and life-threatening stage. Most cases of stage 4 breast cancer develop long after a patient has been diagnosed with cancer. In rare cases, women aren’t diagnosed until stage 4.
Beating stage 4 breast cancer is difficult, but combining advanced treatments may lead to remission and significantly increase your lifespan and your quality of life.
The first priority in treating stage 4 breast cancer is to prevent the tumor from growing and spreading. Since tumors have already spread to other areas of the body, treatment will likely focus on more than one area.
Cases of stage 4 breast cancer are often different from one person to the next, so treatment plans vary significantly. Some of the options for treatment include:
- hormone therapy (for hormone-sensitive tumors only)
- radiation therapy (primarily used for brain and bone tumors)
- surgery (rare for this stage)
Your oncologist will take many factors into consideration before recommending treatments. Your age and overall health can determine whether therapies that have strong physical side effects, such as chemotherapy, are right for you. If a treatment didn’t work for you previously, your doctor probably won’t use it to treat your stage 4 breast cancer.
Dietary choices have long been a focus of potential cancer prevention. A plant-based diet is high in antioxidants, which helps to fight free radicals. In addition, a healthy weight can decrease the risk for breast cancer development. A healthy diet may also help improve your condition after diagnosis.
Breast cancer survivors should refrain from:
- large amounts of red meat
- high-fat milk, cheese, and other dairy
- large amounts of saturated fats
No single food or food group is considered a cancer cure. Your best bet is a balanced diet that’s low in fat but high in plant-based foods. Make sure your daily diet includes leafy greens, dark-colored produce, beans, and whole grains. It’s also best to get your nutrients from food instead of dietary supplements, because supplements aren’t absorbed as efficiently.
Exercise is linked to a healthy weight and overall healthy lifestyle, and consistency is the key. It’s far better for your health to exercise in small amounts every single day than it is to follow a yo-yo pattern of occasional long workouts.
Reducing overall body fat can decrease estrogen hormones, which might decrease the risk for breast cancer recurrence. This is especially the case if you’ve been diagnosed with hormone-sensitive breast cancer tumors.
Although there’s not necessarily a correlation between exercise and stage 4 breast cancer survival, you can reap other benefits from it, such as:
- increased energy
- reduced side effects from treatment
- better body strength
- improved mood
- reduced stress
- overall better quality of life
Your oncologist will also suggest lifestyle choices to help you feel better.
According to the National Cancer Institute, the median survival rate for stage 4 breast cancer is up to two years. Still, some patients have reportedly survived for 16 years or longer. And, an estimated 25 percent of people live at least five years after the initial diagnosis.
It’s important to keep in mind that these are statistics. Actual survival rates are variable. Overall, women are living longer with stage 4 breast cancer than they were years ago, thanks to advances in treatment.
Higher survival rates are often associated with the extent of metastasis. For example, the cancer may have spread to only one organ. Long-term survival rates are also dependent on seeking prompt treatments, such as chemotherapy, surgery, and hormone therapy. Lifestyle choices may also potentially improve your survival rate.
Despite these statistics, researchers continue to look for methods of beating stage 4 breast cancer. The metastatic nature of the disease makes curing it a challenge.
You might consider participating in clinical trials to help researchers better understand breast cancer and come up with potential cures. It’s also critical to find a support group, whether it’s your friends and family or other breast cancer patients. While the fight is tough, you don’t have to battle stage 4 breast cancer alone.