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Metastatic Breast Cancer: Risk Factors, Detection, Prognosis and Prevention

Metastatic Breast Cancer: Risk Factors, Detection, Prognosis and Prevention

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Metastatic Breast Cancer is breast cancer that spreads to other organs or to lymph nodes far from the primary tumor in the tissue of the breast, and is also known as Stage IV Breast Cancer.


What are the risk factors of metastatic breast cancer?

Age and health history can affect the risk of developing breast cancer.

Anything that increases your chance of getting breast cancer is a breast cancer risk factor. Having a risk factor does not mean that you will get cancer; not having risk factors doesn't mean that you will not get cancer. People who think they may be at risk should discuss this with their doctor. Risk factors for breast cancer include the following:

  • Older age.
  • Menstruating at an early age.
  • Older age at first birth or never having given birth.
  • A personal history of breast cancer or benign (non-cancer) breast disease.
  • A mother or sister with breast cancer.
  • Treatment with radiation therapy to the breast/chest.
  • Breast tissue that is dense on a mammogram.
  • Taking hormones such as estrogen and progesterone.
  • Drinking alcoholic beverages.
  • Being white.

Breast cancer is sometimes caused by inherited gene mutations (changes). Hereditary breast cancer makes up approximately 5% to 10% of all breast cancer. Some altered genes related to breast cancer are more common in certain ethnic groups.

Women who have an altered gene related to breast cancer and who have had breast cancer in one breast have an increased risk of developing breast cancer in the other breast. These women also have an increased risk of developing ovarian cancer, and may have an increased risk of developing other cancers. Men who have an altered gene related to breast cancer also have an increased risk of developing this disease.


How is metastatic breast cancer detected?

Tests have been developed that can detect altered genes. These genetic tests are sometimes done for members of families with a high risk of cancer. Tests that examine the breasts are used to detect and diagnose breast cancer.

A doctor should be seen if changes in the breast are noticed. The following tests and procedures may be used:

  • Mammogram: An x-ray of the breast. 
  • Biopsy: The removal of cells or tissues so they can be viewed under a microscope by a pathologist to check for signs of cancer. If a lump in the breast is found, the doctor may need to remove a small piece of the lump. Four types of biopsies are as follows: 
    • Excisional biopsy: The removal of an entire lump of tissue.
    • Incisional biopsy: The removal of part of a lump or a sample of tissue.
    • Core biopsy: The removal of tissue using a wide needle.
    • Fine-needle aspiration (FNA) biopsy: The removal of tissue or fluid, using a thin needle.
  • Estrogen and progesterone receptor test: A test to measure the amount of estrogen and progesterone receptors in cancer tissue. If cancer is found in the breast, tissue from the tumor is checked in the laboratory to find out whether estrogen and progesterone could affect the way cancer grows. The test results show whether hormone therapy may stop the cancer from growing.
  • MRI (magnetic resonance imaging): A procedure that uses a magnet, radio waves, and a computer to make a series of detailed pictures of areas inside the body. This procedure is also called nuclear magnetic resonance imaging (NMRI).


What is the prognosis for metastatic breast cancer?

The prognosis (chance of recovery) and treatment options depend on the following factors:

  • The stage of the breast cancer (the size of the tumor and whether it is in the breast only or has spread to lymph nodes or other places in the body).
  • Estrogen-receptor and progesterone-receptor levels in the tumor tissue.
  • Whether the cells have high levels of human epidermal growth factor type 2 receptors (HER2/neu).
  • How fast the tumor is growing.
  • A woman's age, general health, and menopausal status (whether a woman is still having menstrual periods).
  • Whether the breast cancer has just been diagnosed or has recurred (come back).


How can metastatic breast cancer be prevented?

Breast cancer prevention is action taken to lower the chance of getting breast cancer. By preventing breast cancer, the number of new cases of breast cancer in a group or population is lowered. Hopefully, this will lower the number of deaths caused by breast cancer.

To prevent new breast cancers from starting, scientists look at risk factors and protective factors. Anything that increases your chance of developing breast cancer is called a risk factor; anything that decreases your chance of developing breast cancer is called a protective factor.

Some risk factors for breast cancer can be avoided, but many cannot. Regular exercise and a healthy diet may be protective factors for some types of breast cancer. Avoiding risk factors and increasing protective factors may lower your risk but it does not mean that you will not get breast cancer.

Different ways to prevent breast cancer are being studied, including:

  • Changing lifestyle or eating habits.
  • Avoiding things known to cause breast cancer.
  • Taking medicines to treat a precancerous condition or to keep breast cancer from starting.


Source: Compiled from information from the National Cancer Institute (NCI), a division of the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

NCI health-related material is provided for information purposes only and does not necessarily represent endorsement by or an official position of the National Cancer Institute or any other Federal Agency. Advice on the treatment or care of an individual patient should be obtained through consultation with a physician who has examined that patient or is familiar with that patient's medical history.

  • See also:

                o   Metastatic Breast Cancer- Overview

                o   Metastatic Breast Cancer- Metastasis, primary cancer








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