Breast cancer metastasis is the spread of
cancer cells to a new part of the body, away from the original
site of cancer. An explanation of metastasis should first
point out the difference between the local spread of cancer
and this metastatic cancer. Local spread of breast cancer
means the original tumor has grown into the nearby tissues.
An example of this is a breast tumor which has also attached
itself to the chest wall next to the breast. Breast cancer
metastasis (also called metastatic breast cancer) means the
cancer cells entered either the blood stream or the lymph
system, spread to another area of the body (either lymph nodes
or more distant parts, like other organs) and started to grow
their abnormal cells in that location.
To further clarify, the lymph system is comprised of very
small vessels, similar to veins that carry both waste products
from cells and also cells used in the body’s immune
system. When cancer cells from a breast tumor break off, they
can enter this lymph system and travel to lymph nodes where
they start to grow, forming a breast cancer metastasis.
Cells from a breast tumor can also enter the bloodstream
and travel to other areas of the body and locate, again what
is called a breast cancer metastasis. It should be noted that
different cancers have affinities for different parts of the
body; breast cancer has a tendency to locate in bones, liver
The breast cancer metastasis can occur early, with the original
discovery of the cancerous tumor, or it can develop later
on after the woman’s treatment is complete, often within
two to five years. At the time of the discovery of the first
tumor, the testing a woman undergoes is necessary to detect
if a metastasis has occurred or not, because this has great
influence on her program for treatment.
Whether due to better screening and earlier discovery of
tumors, or due to new treatment methods, survival with breast
cancer metastasis is improving. There are newer chemotherapy
drugs, drugs for women with HER2-positive cancers, and aromatase
inhibitors for hormone-receptor-positive tumors. There is
much research being conducted, especially in these areas of
recurrence and breast cancer metastasis.
Janet Brown is a medical writer
and graduate of Loyola University New Orleans. Her personal
experiences with breast cancer have drawn her to her current
work developing breast cancer patient education and awareness
materials. She currently lives in Georgia.