Stage 4 breast cancer is also called metastatic breast cancer or advanced breast cancer. In this stage, cancer that developed in your breast has spread to other areas of your body. For example, cancer cells might have traveled through your lymphatic system to your lungs, bones, liver, brain, or other organs.
Stage 4 is the most serious and life-threatening stage of breast cancer. Most cases of stage 4 breast cancer develop long after you’ve first been diagnosed with cancer. In rare cases, your cancer may have progressed to stage 4 at the time you are first diagnosed.
Facing stage 4 breast cancer is difficult. But following your doctor’s recommended treatment plan and practicing healthy lifestyle habits can help improve your outcome. It may significantly increase your lifespan and improve your quality of life.
If you have stage 4 breast cancer, it’s important to work with an oncologist to develop a treatment plan. An oncologist is a doctor that specializes in treating cancer.
Your treatment plan for stage 4 breast cancer will aim to stop any tumors you have from growing and spreading. Since tumors have already spread to other areas of your body at this stage of the disease, your treatment will likely be a systemic treatment that can treat all of the areas involved.
Depending on your specific breast cancer characteristics and medical history, your oncologist may recommend a variety of treatment options. For example, they may encourage you to undergo:
- hormone therapy, which is used to treat hormone-sensitive cancers
- radiation therapy, which is often used for brain and bone tumors
- surgery, which is rarely used in stage 4 breast cancer
Your oncologist will take many factors into consideration before recommending a treatment plan. For example, your age and overall health can help them determine if therapies that have strong physical side effects, such as chemotherapy, are right for you. If a particular treatment option hasn’t worked for you in the past, doctors probably won’t use it to treat your stage 4 cancer.
Eating a nutritious diet can help you maintain a higher quality of life, nourish your body, and maintain your ideal weight. Reducing your body fat may help lower the level of estrogen in your body, which might decrease your risk of breast cancer recurrence. This is particularly true if you’ve been diagnosed with hormone-sensitive breast cancer after menopause.
Your doctor may encourage you to avoid eating:
- large amounts of red meat
- high-fat milk, cheese, or other dairy products
- large amounts of saturated fats
- sugary foods and drinks
No single food or food group is considered a magic bullet in cancer treatment. Your best bet is to eat a balanced diet that’s low in saturated fat but high in plant-based foods. Make sure it includes leafy greens and other dark-colored produce, beans, and whole grains. In most cases, it’s best to get your nutrients from foods rather than dietary supplements. In some cases, your doctor may encourage you to add a supplement to your diet.
Exercise is important for your overall mental and physical health. Consistency is key. It’s better to exercise in small amounts every day than to follow an extreme pattern of occasional intense activity between long periods of inactivity.
There might not be a direct correlation between exercise and stage 4 breast cancer survival rates, but you can reap other benefits from regular exercise. For example, it may help you:
- lose excess body fat
- increase your body strength
- increase your energy
- reduce your stress
- improve your mood
- improve your quality of life
- reduce side effects from treatment
Your doctor can help you develop an exercise routine that fits your physical needs and abilities.
According to the American Cancer Society, an estimated 22 percent of people live at least five years after being diagnosed with stage 4 breast cancer.
Many factors can affect your chances of long-term survival. Different subtypes of breast cancer behave differently, meaning some are more aggressive than others and some have far fewer treatment options than others. For this reason, your subtype may impact your outlook. Higher survival rates are also associated with the extent and location of metastasis. In other words, your long-term outlook may be better if your cancer has only spread to your bones than if it’s found in your bones and lungs. Seeking prompt treatment, such as chemotherapy, surgery, or hormone therapy, can also help improve your outlook. Making healthy lifestyle choices might also improve your chances of survival.
Researchers are continuing to examine different treatment options for stage 4 breast cancer. You might consider participating in clinical trials to help researchers better understand breast cancer and come up with potential cures. Your doctor can help you assess the potential benefits and risks of experimental treatments.
It’s also critical to find a strong source of social support, whether it’s your friends and family or a support group with other patients with breast cancer. While the journey is tough, you don’t have to navigate stage 4 breast cancer alone. Ask your doctor for more information about your cancer specifics, treatment options, and support programs in your area.