Impatient Science: First Steps
Impatient Science is a four-part blog series that describes the breast cancer journey, from diagnosis through treatment. Each post expands upon the ideas in the Impatient Science explainer video series, which Rip Media Group made in collaboration with the Dr. Susan Love Research Foundation. Part 1 dealt with reacting to a diagnosis. This part, Part 2, deals with metastatic cancers.
When we last visited L, in Part 1, she’d just received her mother’s breast cancer diagnosis. The doctor told her the breast cancer was metastatic and had spread to her mother’s liver and bones. “I didn’t really know what that meant,” L says, “and it was very frightening at first. But I’m happy to say that with hormone therapy and other treatments, they’ve brought her symptoms under control and slowed the cancer’s spread.”
What Is Metastatic Breast Cancer?
The videos explain that the diagnosis of metastatic breast cancer can occur even when the cancer seems to be in remission. Metastasis, or distant recurrence, is sometimes called “stage 4” cancer. It happens when cancerous cells escape their environment and travel to other organs. These cells may travel a long way and remain dormant for a long time, despite systemic treatments such as chemotherapy or hormone therapy, which are designed to slow or stop cancer’s spread.
As Dr. Susan Love reminds you in the video, it’s important to remember that you didn’t do anything to cause your cancer to spread. A wide range of complex variables — environmental, genetic and behavioral — affect cancers development and spread.
Unfortunately, there’s no cure for metastatic cancer, but it’s not a death sentence — as these videos’ tone makes clear! With modern treatments, patients have long, healthy lives. When cancer is metastatic, the goal isn’t to cure the cancer, but rather to manage it.
Before reading the next section on treatment, take a moment to watch the video which gives a concise overview.
Treating Metastatic Cancer
Treatment for metastatic cancer typically involves a two-pronged approach: controlling the symptoms of the cancer and controlling the cancer cells for as long as possible, so they don’t spread further.
The videos inform us that the exact treatment you receive will depend on your type of cancer and where it has spread. These may change over time, which means your doctor may order more biopsies and tests. Your doctors will watch you closely and adapt your treatment to match your condition.
Treatments for metastatic cancers include hormone therapy, chemotherapy and targeted drugs that work against particular types of tumors. Each therapy targets different parts of tumors and aspects of cancer, so your doctor may very well try several types of treatment simultaneously. While this treatment may seem overwhelming, your doctors are using all the tools available to help you feel as well as they can.
These videos go over several tools to manage cancer, including:
- Undergoing surgery and radiation, which are typically used to remove or shrink the tumor. They may also have a positive effect on any pain you experience.
- Receiving immunotherapy, which is in clinical trials. It changes how your white blood cells behave so they attack tumor cells. If your current treatment options aren’t working, and you qualify for a clinical trial, your doctors may recommend this or another therapy that’s still being tested.
- Working with a palliative care specialist, who helps you manage your pain and any negative side-effects caused by treatment.
Doctors are continuing to make impressive strides in diagnosing and treating metastatic cancers, making them easier to control and live with. Metastatic breast cancer patients now live longer and have a higher quality of life than ever before — and these explainer videos from the Dr. Susan Love Research Foundation are here to prove it.
This concludes Part 2 of this four-part series. Part 3 will examine some of the biology behind cancer, its development, and its spread. If you’re interested in donating to Dr. Susan Love Foundation’s research, visit https://www.drsusanloveresearch.org.
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