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  • There’s currently no cure for metastatic breast cancer, but new treatments have improved survival rates in recent years.
  • Researchers have gained a better understanding of the molecular and genetic characteristics of breast cancer.
  • Improved understanding of breast cancer may help experts develop more personalized treatment plans for people with this condition.

Experts now know that breast cancer isn’t one single disease. There are many different types of breast cancer with different causes and treatments.

Breast cancer is highly treatable in the early stages of the condition, before it spreads to other parts of the body.

When breast cancer spreads to distant parts of the body, it’s known as metastatic breast cancer (MBC) and is harder to treat.

Although there’s no cure for MBC, new treatment options have improved the outlook for people with this condition in recent years.

Read on to learn more about the survival rates and treatment options for people with breast cancer, including MBC.

Survival rates for breast cancer are higher when the condition is diagnosed and treated early. Treatment with a combination of surgery, radiation, and sometimes medication can cure breast cancer in the early stages.

The American Cancer Society (ACS) reports that 99 percent of people who receive treatment for breast cancer in the earliest stages live for 5 years or longer after diagnosis.

There’s still no cure for breast cancer that has spread to distant parts of the body. However, treatment can help prolong and improve quality of life in people with MBC.

According to the ACS, the 5-year survival rate for people with MBC is 28 percent. People with MBC may go through periods of time when the condition is well controlled with treatment.

Learning more about different types of breast cancer has allowed scientists to develop new diagnostic tools and treatments. This is helping people with breast cancer live longer and with better quality of life on average.

According to a report from the ACS, the breast cancer death rate declined by roughly 40 percent in the United States from 1989 to 2017. The outlook for people with breast cancer might have improved further since then, with more recent advances in diagnosis and treatment tools.

If you have breast cancer, your recommended treatment plan will depend on multiple factors such as:

  • the stage of the cancer
  • the location, number, and size of tumors
  • the molecular and genetic characteristics of the cancer
  • your overall health and treatment priorities

To treat breast cancer in the early stages, your care team may recommend local therapy. This includes surgery and sometimes radiation.

To treat breast cancer that has spread to other parts of the body, your care team may recommend systemic therapy. This may include:

  • chemotherapy
  • hormone therapy
  • targeted therapy
  • immunotherapy

Tailoring your treatment plan

Before a healthcare professional recommends a treatment plan, they’ll collect and test a tumor sample to learn what type of breast cancer you have.

Some types of breast cancers are:

  • Estrogen receptor-positive. This type of breast cancer grows more quickly in the presence of the hormone estrogen.
  • Progesterone receptor-positive. This type of breast cancer grows more quickly in the presence of the hormone progesterone.
  • Human epidermal growth factor receptor 2 (HER2)-positive. These cancers produce an overabundance of the HER2 protein, which drives the growth of the cancer cells.

Other types of breast cancers are:

  • estrogen receptor-negative
  • progesterone receptor-negative
  • HER2-negative

These are known as triple-negative breast cancers.

If you have breast cancer that’s estrogen receptor-positive, progesterone receptor-positive, or HER2-positive, your doctor may recommend hormone therapy or targeted therapy.

Fewer treatments are available for triple-negative breast cancer.

Scientists continue to conduct clinical trials to develop and test treatments for breast cancer.

These trials may help them develop new treatment options and learn which types of people are most likely to benefit from available treatments. Over time, this might lead to more effective and personalized treatment plans.

One 2018 trial found that chemotherapy doesn’t benefit most women with early stage breast cancer that is hormone-positive and HER2-negative. These women may benefit from surgery and hormone therapy instead.

Researchers in many other trials are also trying to determine whether certain combinations of therapies work better in certain types of breast cancer, report the authors of a 2019 review.

Scientists are also studying ways to improve breast cancer screening and diagnosis to detect breast cancer in the earliest stage possible.

For example, the tomosynthesis mammographic imaging screening trial is evaluating the potential benefits of 3-D mammography.

This is a new technology that produces images from different angles around the breast to build a multidimensional picture.

There is no “natural” cure for breast cancer. Medical treatments are necessary to remove, shrink, or slow the growth of tumors.

That said, you may use certain complementary therapies and lifestyle changes alongside standard medical treatments to help:

  • control symptoms of breast cancer
  • ease side effects of treatment
  • improve quality of life

For example:

  • Acupuncture and ginger may help relieve nausea and vomiting related to cancer treatments such as chemotherapy.
  • Massage therapy, mindfulness meditation, and yoga may help ease anxiety, stress, and fatigue.
  • Eating a well-balanced diet, getting enough sleep, and practicing other healthy habits will help support your overall health.

These complementary therapies and lifestyle may have benefits for your physical or mental health, but they will not cure cancer.

Not all complementary therapies are safe for people with breast cancer. Certain herbal supplements or other complementary therapies may interfere with cancer treatments or carry other risks.

Talk with your doctor before you take any supplements or try other complementary therapies for breast cancer. They can help you understand the potential benefits and risks.

Advancements in treatments in recent years have greatly improved survival rates and quality of life in people with breast cancer.

Breast cancer is now a highly treatable disease when diagnosed early. A growing number of treatments are also growing for people with MBC.

Improved understanding of different types of breast cancer has led to the development of new targeted therapies that allow doctors to treat breast cancer with a more personalized approach.