Metastatic breast cancer (MBC), or stage 4 breast cancer, is cancer that starts in the breasts and spreads to other parts of the body.

Cancer metastasizes, or spreads, when it invades nearby healthy cells, or when the lymph system carries cancerous cells to other parts of the body.

Researchers estimate that about 5 percent of people who receive a breast cancer diagnosis will receive an initial diagnosis of MBC.

Not only can breast cancer cause emotional and mental stress, but it can also lead to financial stress. Here’s how to manage this aspect of a breast cancer diagnosis.

Treatment for MBC can include:

  • chemotherapy
  • radiation
  • surgery

Your oncologist may also recommend targeted drug therapy or immunotherapy. The goal is to strengthen your immune system so your body can fight the cancer, as well as shrink or destroy cancerous cells.

An MBC diagnosis affects people differently, and some are more likely than others to feel a financial strain.

One cause of financial stress is lack of health insurance.

According to a 2018 national survey of more than 1,513 women with MBC, approximately 35 percent didn’t have health insurance. Of those, 70 percent felt concerned about the financial impact of cancer.

Some people with MBC receive treatment for life. This can make the financial cost of stage 4 breast cancer higher than that of stage 1 breast cancer. This, in turn, can lead to an increase in financial stress.

The exact cost of treatment varies. But the monthly cost of treating MBC is about $4,463, compared with only $2,418 for treating stage 1 breast cancer, according to research from 2020.

Common concerns of women who don’t have health insurance include:

  • an inability to pay their medical bills
  • loss of income from not working
  • the fear of collection agencies contacting them

But having health insurance doesn’t necessarily ease financial concerns.

The 2018 national survey found that even people with health insurance experienced financial stress after an MBC diagnosis. In fact, they were more likely to feel stressed about finances.

For some of these women, financial stress was due to concerns over out-of-pocket expenses for treatments.

Even though health insurance covers many cancer-related treatments, most people are still responsible for health insurance deductibles, copayments, and coinsurance.

The possibility of being unable to work during cancer treatments only adds to the stress. For people of higher socioeconomic status, an inability to work coupled with high medical costs often triggers worries about losing assets, too.

Stress is a natural response. Stressful situations trigger a fight-or-flight reaction, where your body releases adrenaline, cortisol, and other hormones to help you respond to possible threats.

While short-term, or acute, stress isn’t usually harmful, chronic stress means your body’s stress response doesn’t shut off.

This can lead to too much cortisol and adrenaline, which triggers an inflammatory state. And according to a research review from 2010, chronic inflammation may lead to tumor growth and cause cancer to spread.

Too many stress hormones can also inhibit anoikis, a process that signals the death of cells. It occurs when normal cells migrate to a place they don’t belong. When stress hormones prevent this process from happening, this can lead to uncontrolled cancer growth and spread.

It’s important to learn healthy ways to manage your stress. Here’s a look at several ways to help relieve stress after a diagnosis of breast cancer.

Exercise

Light to moderate exercise may improve sleep, increase your energy, and relieve stress. You can practice indoors or go for a walk outdoors to get fresh air.

Exercise releases hormones such as endorphins and dopamine. These are feel-good hormones that can improve your mental outlook.

Practice self-care

Taking care of your body and mind can also relieve stress. Spend more time focusing on yourself and take part in hobbies you enjoy or other relaxing activities.

In addition, you can practice mindfulness techniques. Listen to calm music, meditate, or practice deep breathing exercises.

Know your limitations

If you’re not feeling well, it’s OK to say no. Overbooking yourself or taking on too many tasks can be overwhelming and increase stress.

Get enough sleep

Lack of sleep can also worsen stress. Aim for at least 7 hours or more of sleep each night.

To improve sleep quality, limit daytime naps, avoid heavy meals and liquids close to bedtime, and make your room as comfortable as possible. It’s best to keep it cool, dark, and quiet.

Don’t isolate yourself

Spending time with close family and friends can take your mind off your worries. Plus, it often helps to talk with someone and share your experience. If you don’t feel comfortable speaking with a friend or family member, join a support group, whether in-person or online.

If you’re unable to cope with the emotional, mental, physical, or financial stress of MBC, talk with your doctor.

Resources are available to help you cope with stress.

Your doctor may recommend talk therapy, support groups, or cognitive behavioral therapy. They may also be able to provide information on resources to help you manage the costs of cancer care.

A diagnosis of MBC can have a huge financial impact. Whether you’re lacking insurance or facing expensive out-of-pocket costs even with insurance, you may worry about the long-term effects of MBC on your finances.

Learning how to manage financial stress is key to coping with your diagnosis, so take steps to reduce your stress levels. And if necessary, speak with your doctor for help.