In the United States, 1 in every 8 women is at risk of developing metastatic breast cancer or a form of invasive breast cancer at some point in their life. Invasive breast cancer generally originates in the breast ducts or glands, eventually spreading into the breast tissue as well. It can even spread into the lymph nodes surrounding the breast tissue and advance beyond.
Beyond the lymph nodes, breast cancer can also spread to other parts of the body, and this usually occurs in advanced or stage 4 breast cancer (also known as metastatic breast cancer). Breast cancer spreading to other parts of the body is perhaps the biggest fear of women who have undergone treatment for breast cancer. Usually, metastatic breast cancer is incurable, but proper treatment can prolong a woman’s life for many years.
Invasive Ductal Carcinoma vs. Invasive Lobular Carcinoma
Two most common types of invasive breast cancer are invasive ductal carcinoma (IDC) and lobular carcinoma (ILC). Invasive ductal carcinoma is far more common than invasive lobular carcinoma, but it also has a higher chance of remaining localized — although both types can spread and advance into metastasized breast cancer. Women with invasive ductal carcinoma feel like they have a lump in their breast while women with invasive lobular carcinoma feel a thickening in their breast.
What Causes Metastatic Breast Cancer? What Are the Risk Factors?
No one really knows what exactly causes invasive breast cancer, so a woman can never really know if she may develop this form of breast cancer. However, older women who are above the age of 35 tend to be at a higher risk than younger ones. A woman’s family history of breast cancer and her genetics may also increase her risk of developing invasive breast cancer. Women with dense breasts, obese women, or women who do not have children are also at higher risk.
Stage IV or metastatic breast cancer occurs due to the metastasis of cancer cells. This means that they begin invading nearby healthy cells, lodging in capillaries and/or penetrating into the circulatory or lymph system. Consequently, the cancer cells spread to other parts of the body, such as the bones, brain, liver, and lungs. When cancer cells metastasize, this may also result in the growth of new small tumors.
What Are The Symptoms Of Invasive and Metastatic Breast Cancer?
During the early stages, a woman may experience and notice some signs or symptoms, but they start to become noticeable as the tumor grows and advances. A woman with invasive breast cancer may notice that her breast has been undergoing multiple, gradual changes. She may feel a pea-sized mass or lump, or a thickening around or in her breast and/or her underarm. She may even feel a hardened spot under the skin of her breast that feels almost like a marble.
The contour, shape, and size of her breast along with the position and shape of her nipple may change. Her nipple or the skin on her breast may also become red and clear, or blood-stained fluid may start oozing from her nipple. Furthermore, a woman with invasive breast cancer may also notice a visible change in the appearance of her breast.
Depending on the part of the body where the cancer cells have spread to, the symptoms of metastatic breast cancer can vary. If the tumor has spread to the bones, the bones may ache and become brittle. On the other hand, if it has spread to the brain, a woman may experience confusion, seizures, and vision problems. However, if the tumor has spread to the liver, a woman’s skin may become yellow and feel itchy, and her belly may swell up. Finally, if it has spread to the lungs, a woman may experience shortness of breath.
How Is Invasive and Metastatic Breast Cancer Diagnosed?
Effective treatment of invasive breast cancer depends on how early cancer has been diagnosed. Invasive breast cancer diagnosis includes the following tests:
- Breast Biopsy
- Breast MRI
- Breast Self-Exam
- Breast Ultrasound
- Clinical Breast Exam
- Ductal Lavage
- Minimally Invasive Breast Biopsy
- Sentinel Node Biopsy
Even after undergoing treatment for breast cancer, regular checkups to ensure that the tumor has not returned and has not become metastasized is crucial. During these checkups, your doctor may perform several tests apart from the ones above, such as:
- Blood tests
- Imaging studies
- Tissue tests
Invasive and Metastatic Breast Cancer Treatment Options
Ensuring an ideal outcome for the patient is the ultimate goal of an invasive breast cancer treatment plan. The treatment plan may include a combination of the following treatments:
- Hormone therapy
- Targeted therapy
When it comes to metastatic breast cancer treatments, in cases where the cancer has spread to other parts of the body, the treatment may include:
- Bisphosphonates or denosumab
- Chemotherapy and/or hormone therapy
- Monoclonal antibody therapy
- Radiation surgery and/or therapy
- Tyrosine kinase inhibitor therapy
Despite the fact that women have no way of knowing for sure that they may develop invasive breast cancer, they can definitely prevent it from advancing into metastatic breast cancer. All they need to do is regularly perform a breast self-exam and undergo a regular clinical breast exam whenever they visit their doctor. Further, leading a healthy lifestyle may also reduce their risk of developing invasive breast cancer as well.