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Living Well With Metastatic Breast Cancer

Treatments continued...

Targeted therapies. Herceptin (trastuzumab), Perjeta (pertuzumab), and Tykerb (lapatinib) are likely treatments if your breast cancer has high amounts of the protein HER2, which helps cancer cells grow. When used alone or with chemotherapy, these drugs can shrink tumors, slow cancer growth, and, in some cases, help you live longer than chemotherapy alone. If your breast cancer doesn't have the HER2 protein, your doctor may use another type of targeted therapy, Afinitor. In combination with another drug, it can help stop the growth of some types of advanced breast cancer.

Chemotherapy. This can control cancer and improve your quality of life with metastatic cancer. If your cancer is hormone receptor-negative (meaning an anti-estrogen treatment is unlikely to work), you may get small doses of one chemotherapy drug at a time. “This can minimize side effects and make the drugs more effective over a longer period of time,” Troso-Sandoval says.

Other treatments. You may get surgery to remove tumors at the original cancer site or another site where it has spread. This can prevent or ease symptoms and may extend your life. Radiation can shrink your tumors and ease pain. Other medications can ease painful symptoms where cancer has spread.


Dealing With Fear and Uncertainty

Even with better treatments, living with metastatic breast cancer can be an emotional roller coaster -- especially at first. Time can help. These tips may also:

Don't obsess about survival statistics. “Since statistics apply to groups of people rather than to a single cancer patient, it is hard to know what those numbers mean for any single person,” says Karen Hartman. She is senior clinical social worker at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in Commack, NY. “This is one part of ‘understanding your disease’ that is not always helpful.”

Get emotional support. Hartman recommends individual counseling with a social worker who specializes in cancer, especially if you are newly diagnosed. You can also get practical and emotional support by joining a support group. Make sure it's for women with metastatic breast cancer.

Live in the present. Turn fear of the future on its head: Focus on doing the things you love now.

Stay healthy. Eat well and exercise regularly to boost your mood and energy. Remember that treatments for metastatic breast cancer keep improving, and there may be a new approach for you on the horizon.

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Reviewed on April 15, 2014

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