Understanding Breast Cancer
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Cancer is a broad term for a class of diseases characterized by abnormal cells that grow and invade healthy cells in the body. Breast cancer starts in the cells of the breast as a group of cancer cells that can then invade surrounding tissues or spread (metastasize) to other areas of the body.
What Causes Cancer To Develop?
Cancer begins in the cells which are the basic building blocks that make up tissue. Tissue is found in the breast and other parts of the body. Sometimes, the process of cell growth goes wrong and new cells form when the body doesn’t need them and old or damaged cells do not die as they should. When this occurs, a build up of cells often forms a mass of tissue called a lump, growth, or tumor.
Breast cancer occurs when malignant tumors develop in the breast. These cells can spread by breaking away from the original tumor and entering blood vessels or lymph vessels, which branch into tissues throughout the body. When cancer cells travel to other parts of the body and begin damaging other tissues and organs, the process is called metastasis.
Metastatic Breast Cancer
What Is Metastatic Breast Cancer?
Metastatic breast cancer is also classified as Stage 4 breast cancer. The cancer has spread to other parts of the body. This usually includes the lungs, liver, bones or brain.
How does cancer spread, or metastasize?
The spread of cancer usually happens through one or more of the following steps:
Cancer cells invade nearby healthy cells. When the healthy cell is taken over, it too can replicate more abnormal cells.
Cancer cells penetrate into the circulatory or lymph system. Cancer cells travel through the walls of nearby lymph vessels or blood vessels.
Migration through circulation. Cancer cells are carried by the lymph system and the bloodstream to other parts of the body.
Cancer cells lodge in capillaries. Cancer cells stop moving as they are lodged in capillaries at a distant location and divide and migrate into the surrounding tissue.
New small tumors grow. Cancer cells form small tumors at the new location (called micrometastases.)
What Are The Symptoms Of Metastatic Breast Cancer?
The symptoms may vary, depending on how far your breast cancer has spread and what type of tissue the new cancer growth has invaded. All symptoms should be reported to your physician.
Symptoms of metastasis may vary depending on where the cancer has spread to.
Here are some symptoms that vary by locations commonly associated with breast cancer metastasis.
Metastasis in the bone may cause:
Severe, progressive pain
Bones that are more easily fractured or broken
Metastasis to the brain may cause:
Persistent, progressively worsening headache or pressure to the head
Vomiting or nausea
Behavioral changes or personality changes
Metastasis to the liver may cause:
Itchy skin or rash
Abnormally high enzymes in the liver
Abdominal pain, appetite loss, nausea, and vomiting
Metastasis to the lungs may cause:
Chronic cough or inability to get a full breath
Abnormal chest X-ray
Other nonspecific systemic symptoms of metastatic breast cancer can include fatigue, weight loss, and poor appetite, but it’s important to remember these can also be caused by medication or depression.
If you notice these symptoms, be sure you talk with your physician. They could be important for getting the treatment you need.
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