By Nico Strydom
October is breast cancer awareness month in South Africa and this year the Cancer Association of South Africa (Cansa) focuses on metastatic breast cancer.
Breast cancer is the most common cancer affecting women in South Africa and according to Cansa 1 out of every 27 women runs the risk of being diagnosed with breast cancer during her lifetime.
Women and men can be diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer (MBC), but according to Cansa approximately 99% of the cases will occur in women. MBC is also called advanced breast cancer or phase 4 breast cancer.
“This is when the cancer has spread to other parts of the body such as the liver, lungs, legs, brain and other organs and tissue. Although MBC or advanced breast cancer can be treated, the illness cannot be cured. The purpose of treatment is to restrict progression, to manage symptoms and control or limit pain,” says Gerda Strauss, Cansa’s head of service delivery.
The treatment options will also depend on where the cancer is located in the body, the type of cancer cells, the symptoms, treatments already undergone previously, health and age. “The treatment of advanced breast cancer or MBC is more effective if adapted to the individual and personal needs of the patient.”
The signs and symptoms of MBC depend on the cancer and to what parts of the body it has spread. If it has spread to the legs, possible symptoms could include pain, bone fractures or fractures and a leg or arm that feels numb or weak. If breast cancer spreads to the lungs, it can cause tiredness and shortness of breath, while breath cancer that has spread to the liver can cause pain or swelling of the abdomen, loss of appetite, yellow skin or eyes and fatigue. If the cancer has spread to the brain, the patient could experience numbness and an inability to move a part of her body, persistent headaches, fainting spells, changes in vision and hearing and drowsiness.
According to Strauss, patients with MBC have a difficult road ahead of them. “These women struggle every day to handle the accompanying trauma and physical limitations. Patients with advanced breast cancer can feel isolated and also that other misunderstand them due to the extent of their illness.”
Over and above these symptoms, there are other challenges such as sexual disfunction, experiencing social isolation, lowered self-esteem, anxiety and depression. They also have to handle the stigma that often accompanies the illness.
WebMD: https://www.webmd.com/breast-cancer/treatments-metastatic-breast-cancer#1 en https://www.webmd.com/breast-cancer/metastatic-breast-cancer-symptoms-diagnosis#1