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When Cancer Goes Beyond Your Breast

If your doctor told you that your breast cancer has spread to other parts of your body, it's at a more advanced stage than if it's only in your breasts. How far it has spread is one of the things your doctor will consider when she tells you the "stage" of your cancer. It's considered "metastatic" if it has spread far from your breasts. Every case is different. For some women, it becomes something they live with for a long time. For others, focusing on pain management and quality of life is the main goal.

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Most Common Places It Spreads

It's still breast cancer, even if it's in another organ. For example, if breast cancer spreads to your lungs, that doesn't mean you have lung cancer. Although it can spread to any part of your body, there are certain places it's most likely to go to, including the lymph nodes, bones, liver, lungs, and brain.

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Lymph Nodes

The lymph nodes under your arm, inside your breast, and near your collarbone are among the first places breast cancer spreads. If it spreads beyond these small glands to other parts of the body, it’s considered "metastatic." When you're diagnosed with breast cancer, your doctor should check lymph nodes near the tumor to see if they're affected. The lymph system helps drain bacteria and other harmful substances from your body. You might not notice symptoms if your breast cancer is in these nodes.

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Bones

When breast cancer is in your bones, pain is usually the first symptom. It can affect any bone, including the spine, arms, and legs. Sometimes the bone may be weak enough to break, but treatment often prevents that. You might also have numbness or weakness in a part of your body, like an arm or leg. If the cancer involves your spinal cord, it can also cause problems with incontinence or going to the bathroom.

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Liver

If breast cancer spreads to your liver, you may have pain in your abdomen that doesn’t go away, or you might feel bloated or full. You might also lose your appetite and lose weight. You may notice that your skin and the whites of your eyes are turning yellow, which is called jaundice. That happens because your liver isn’t working right.

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Lungs

Breast cancer can spread to the lungs or to the space between the lung and the chest wall, making fluid build up around the lung. Symptoms can include shortness of breath, a cough that won’t go away, and chest pain. Some people lose their appetite, leading to weight loss.

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Brain

It's possible for breast cancer to spread to the brain. That can cause headaches that throw off your balance and make falls more likely. You may have numbness or weakness in one part of your body. You might act differently, or you could feel confused or have seizures.

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Treatments

You may need surgery, chemotherapy, radiation, and medications. The drugs your doctor recommends will depend on your type of breast cancer. For instance, if the hormone estrogen spurs your cancer cells to grow, your doctor would choose different treatment from someone who has HER2 breast cancer, in which a certain protein drives the growth. Pain management is also key, so you can feel as well as possible. 

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Reviewed by Jennifer Robinson, MD on February 22, 2016

NEXT IN THE SERIES

You fight your metastatic breast cancer in more ways than one.

Approved Use

Patients should not take AFINITOR if they are allergic to AFINITOR or to any of its ingredients. Patients should tell their health care provider before taking AFINITOR if they are allergic to sirolimus (Rapamune®) or temsirolimus (Torisel®).

AFINITOR can cause serious side effects, such as lung or breathing problems, infections, or kidney failure. Some of these side effects can be severe and can even lead to death. Your health care team may have ways to help manage side effects that do occur. It's important to talk with your doctor or nurse about side effects you experience and the best ways to manage them. Serious side effects include:

Lung or Breathing Problems: Patients should tell their health care provider right away if they have any of these symptoms: new or worsening cough, shortness of breath, chest pain, difficulty breathing, or wheezing.

Infections: AFINITOR may make patients more likely to develop an infection, such as pneumonia, or a bacterial, fungal, or viral infection. Viral infections may include reactivation of hepatitis B in people who have had hepatitis B in the past. Patients may need to be treated as soon as possible. Patients should tell their health care provider right away if they have a temperature of 100.5°F or above, have chills, or do not feel well. Symptoms of hepatitis B or infection may include the following: fever, chills, skin rash, joint pain and inflammation, tiredness, loss of appetite, nausea, pale stools or dark urine, yellowing of the skin, or pain in the upper right side of the stomach.

Angioedema: Patients who take an angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitor medicine during treatment with AFINITOR are at a possible increased risk for a type of allergic reaction called angioedema. Talk with your health care provider before taking AFINITOR if you are not sure if you take an ACE inhibitor medicine. Get medical help right away if you have trouble breathing or develop swelling of your tongue, mouth, or throat during treatment with AFINITOR.

Kidney Failure: Patients taking AFINITOR may develop kidney failure. Patients should have tests to check their kidney function before and during their treatment with AFINITOR.

Delayed Wound Healing: AFINITOR can cause incisions to heal slowly or not heal well. Call your health care provider right away if your incision is red, warm, or painful; if you have blood, fluid, or pus in your incision; if your incision opens up; or if your incision swells.

Before taking AFINITOR, tell your health care provider about all your medical conditions, including if you:

  • Have or have had kidney problems
  • Have or have had liver problems
  • Have diabetes or high blood sugar
  • Have high blood cholesterol levels
  • Have any infections
  • Previously had hepatitis B
  • Are scheduled to receive any vaccinations. You should not receive a live vaccine or be around people who have recently received a live vaccine during your treatment with AFINITOR. If you are not sure about the type of vaccine, ask your health care provider
  • Have other medical conditions
  • Are pregnant or could become pregnant. AFINITOR can cause harm to your unborn baby. If you are able to become pregnant, you should use effective birth control while using AFINITOR and for 8 weeks after your last dose. Talk to your health care provider about birth control options while taking AFINITOR
  • Are breastfeeding or plan to breastfeed. Do not breastfeed during treatment and for 2 weeks after your last dose

Tell your health care provider about all of the medicines you take, including prescription and nonprescription medicines, vitamins, and herbal supplements. Using AFINITOR with certain other medicines can cause serious side effects. Keep a list of medicines you take and show it to your health care provider when you get a new medicine. Especially tell your health care provider if you take St John's wort (Hypericum perforatum), medicines that weaken your immune system (your body's ability to fight infections and other problems), or medicines for:

  • Fungal infections
  • Bacterial infections
  • Tuberculosis
  • Seizures
  • HIV-AIDS
  • Heart conditions or high blood pressure

If you are taking any medicines for the conditions listed above, your health care provider might need to prescribe a different medicine or your dose of AFINITOR may need to be changed. Tell your health care provider before you start taking any new medicine.

Common Side Effects

The most common side effect of AFINITOR in treating advanced hormone receptor-positive, HER2-negative breast cancer was mouth ulcers and sores (67%). Tell your health care provider if you have pain, discomfort, or open sores in your mouth. Your health care provider may tell you to use a special mouthwash or mouth gel that does not contain alcohol, hydrogen peroxide, iodine, or thyme.

Other common side effects of AFINITOR include:

  • Infections (50%)
  • Rash (39%)
  • Feeling tired (36%)
  • Diarrhea (33%)
  • Loss of appetite (30%)
  • Nausea (29%), vomiting (17%)
  • Weight loss (25%)
  • Cough (24%), shortness of breath (21%)
  • Abnormal taste (22%)
  • Headache (21%)
  • Pain in arms and legs (9%), back (14%), joints (20%)
  • Swelling of arms, hands, feet, ankles, face, or other parts of the body (19%)
  • Nose bleeds (17%)
  • Fever (15%)
  • Constipation (14%)
  • High blood glucose (14%)
  • Difficulty sleeping (13%)
  • Feeling weak (13%)
  • Itching (13%)
  • Dry mouth (11%)
  • Hair loss (10%)

Other side effects that may occur with AFINITOR:

  • Absence of menstrual periods (menstruation). You may miss 1 or more menstrual periods. Tell your health care provider if this happens
  • AFINITOR may affect fertility in females and males, and may affect your ability to become pregnant if you are female or your ability to father a child if you are male. Talk to your health care provider if this is a concern for you

Tell your health care provider if you have any side effect that bothers you or does not go away.

These are not all the possible side effects of AFINITOR. For more information, ask your health care provider or pharmacist. Call your doctor for medical advice about side effects.

You are encouraged to report negative side effects of prescription drugs to the FDA. Visit www.fda.gov/medwatch or call 1-800-FDA-1088.

Please see full Prescribing Information for AFINITOR, including Patient Information.

The brands listed are the trademarks or register marks of their respective owners and are not trademarks or register marks of Novartis.

Novartis

Novartis Pharmaceuticals Corporation East Hanover, New Jersey 07936-1080 © 2016 Novartis 8/16 AFB-1133407

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