Breast cancer is categorized by stages that describe the nature of the disease and the prognosis for the patient. A stage 4 cancer means the cancer has spread beyond its point of origin to other organs and tissue. When breast cancer advances to stage 4, the five-year survival rate is about 22 percent.
Curing stage 4 breast cancer is not generally considered possible. For many patients, however, stage 4 breast cancer can be treated and held at bay for years. Some patients do experience complete remission of the disease. The reasons why some stage 4 patients appear completely free of cancer after treatment can’t be explained. For many women who believe their breast cancer is in remission, the reality is that recurrence of the disease is likely.
Remission is an encouraging word, but it doesn’t always mean cured. When cancer is in remission, it means there are no signs of the disease visible to doctors. However, there is still a chance that the disease is in the body, just at a level that is too small to detect. For some patients, though, remission can mean they are completely free of the disease. There is just no way to be 100 percent certain that the disease won’t return.
But there is room for hope. The continued improvement of chemotherapy and other accompanying treatments for breast cancer are boosting the numbers of stage 4 breast cancer patients living without a return of their disease. Advanced therapies are also extending the time before recurrence occurs. There is reason for optimism that further advances, especially in areas such as stem cell therapy, will continue to increase the numbers of stage 4 survivors.
Recurrence is not a word anyone with cancer wants to hear. It means that the disease has returned after it has been undetectable for a period of time. It may return to the same place where the cancer started. This is called local recurrence. Regional recurrence refers to cancer that reappears in the lymph nodes near the spot where the tumor first developed.
Cancer is an unpredictable and often frustrating disease. You may be treated for stage 4 breast cancer with a combination of surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation therapy. And that comprehensive and exhaustive treatment plan may rid your breast tissue and surrounding lymph nodes of cancer.
However, cancer may develop in another organ, such as the liver. If the cancer cells in the liver are identified as the same type of cells that formed in your breast tissue originally, it means your breast cancer metastasized. So even though a new tumor is growing in your liver, you are still said to have stage 4 breast cancer.
If the cancer cells in the liver are different than the breast cancer cells, it means you have two different types of cancer.
The recurrence of stage 4 breast cancer can be discouraging. Treatment for the disease carries unpleasant side effects, and there is no way to know how the disease will respond to therapy.
If you experience the recurrence of stage 4 cancer and find yourself dispirited or searching for answers, consider joining a support group. You may learn some helpful tips about treatments. You may also find inspiration in the stories of other patients. Talking with your doctor about depressive symptoms or other issues related to your cancer recurrence may also be helpful.
The return of stage 4 breast cancer may also make you eligible for a clinical trial that is testing a new procedure or therapy. Clinical trials can’t promise success, but they may allow you to try a new drug before it hits the market.
Though the recurrence of stage 4 breast cancer can be a difficult turn of events, it’s also important to remember that cancer treatments are improving every year. People struggling with stage 4 breast cancer are living longer than ever before. You can’t necessarily guarantee the remission of the disease, and you can’t really prevent its recurrence. However, if you are proactive about your health care, you may be able to live longer than you imagined with stage 4 breast cancer.