For every fact out there about metastatic breast cancer, there are misunderstandings that say the opposite. As you learn about your diagnosis and share your news with others, you'll hear plenty of both.
With such a serious condition, you’ll want to do everything you can to know what’s true and what’s not.
Myth: My cancer spread because I got the wrong treatment.
Truth: If you had breast cancer before and now it’s metastatic, it’s understandable if you’re rethinking your original advice and decisions. But give yourself a break: Your metastatic cancer diagnosis doesn't mean you or your doctors chose the wrong treatment.
If even one cancer cell avoids radiation, chemotherapy, or surgery, it can spread and grow a tumor. Cancer treatments do a lot to make that less likely. But none, even surgery, get rid of all risk.
Myth: There's no treatment.
Truth: Metastatic breast cancer can't be cured, but it can be treated.
How you fare with metastatic cancer depends on many things, including your age, health, other conditions, and access to medical care. But about one-third of the people with this diagnosis have lived with it for at least 5 years.
It may help to remember that survival rates are about big groups of people and don’t predict what will happen to any specific person. Your doctor can give you a better sense of how you may do (your “prognosis”) or a survival range, but a lot will depend on how your treatment goes.
Myth: All metastatic breast cancers need the same treatment.
Truth: There's no one-size-fits-all approach for any kind of cancer.
There are so many different treatment options for advanced breast cancer that some are used together. If one doesn't work or stops working, there's usually another treatment to try. Or you may have other health conditions that your doctor is also keeping in mind when recommending your plan. So if your treatment isn’t the same as someone else's, that could be why.
Myth: Taking a break from treatment will set me back.
Truth: Though treatment is trying to shrink the cancer and slow its growth, it can be hard on your body. Your mind may not want to stop, but your body likely will. This is a big part of your quality of life.
Talk to your health care team about scheduling breaks between treatments. This way the cancer's being controlled while your body recovers.
Myth: Metastatic means I have to have a mastectomy.
Truth: Metastatic breast cancer means breast cancer has spread to other parts of your body, like your bones, liver, or lungs. Treatment will depend on many things, including where the cancer has spread, previous treatments, symptoms, and what works best for your body and lifestyle. A mastectomy is not always part of the treatment plan for metastatic breast cancer. You still get to decide.
Myth: I should make treatment decisions quickly.
Truth: There are many decisions to make after an advanced cancer diagnosis. It's understandable if you want to check things off the list. But when it comes to treatment, take your time. Learn all you can about your diagnosis, treatment options, and what's ahead. Seek out a second opinion, and talk to others in your shoes. Giving yourself space to act instead of react will pay off in peace of mind.
Myth: I'm not a good fit for clinical trials.
Truth: The clinical trials of today may be the cutting-edge cancer treatments of tomorrow. Clinical trials are a consideration for everyone at every stage. Having metastatic breast cancer may exclude you from some trials but make you a perfect fit for others. Ask your doctor about your options.
Myth: Breast reconstruction isn’t an option.
Truth: As more women live longer with metastatic breast cancer, reconstruction after mastectomy has become a more popular option. You may need to wait until after radiation or chemotherapy, as the added healing time could delay your ability to have treatment. Ask your doctor if it's an option for you.
With these or any other questions about your cancer, your medical team can also provide resources for you and your loved ones to help you all through the treatment process. Good support is also key. Surround yourself with people you trust, and seek out others who've been where you are and can help you move forward.