What does the diagnosis of metastatic breast cancer means to me?
When you are diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer it does not mean that your initial treatment was not effective or because of your lifestyle. Breast cancer can come back in another part of the body months or years after the original diagnosis and treatment. Nearly 30% of women diagnosed with early-stage breast cancer will develop metastatic disease1,2.
What tests do I need to confirm my diagnosis and check my progress?
The first thing your oncologist will want to do is find out as much as possible about your cancer – what type of metastatic breast cancer it is and where it has spread in the body1,2. This will help your oncologist determine the best treatment plan for you1,2.
The types of tests you might have include:
Laboratory tests – these are tests of the blood, urine or other body fluids.
Imaging procedures – there are a variety of different imaging procedures that can help detect the location and size of tumors. Examples include CT scans and MRI scans.
Biopsy – this is when a sample of tissue is taken from your tumor to test for genetic markers on the tumor cells.
Tests performed may vary from one person to another depending on your signs and symptoms and your oncologist's recommendation.
Test and scans used to diagnose your breast cancer may be repeated throughout your treatment duration. This will help to determine if you are responding to your treatment for example tumor shrinkage and stable disease ( tumour neither growing or shrinking) and not responding when the tumor starts to grow again.
What are the different types of breast cancer?
The presence (or absence) of particular genetic markers on your breast cancer cells will define which type of breast cancer you have. The two main types of markers are human epidermal growth factor receptor 2 (HER2) and hormone receptors (HR). The two hormone receptors that are important in breast cancer are estrogen receptors (ER) and progesterone receptors (PR).
By knowing the combination of your genetic markers, it will help your oncologist in selecting the right treatment for you.
There are four main types of breast cancer1,2,3:
This is the most common form of breast cancer found in approximately two-thirds of patients3.
Human epidermal growth factor receptor 2 (HER2) is found within the cell membrane. When HER2 is activated, it causes breast cancer cells to grow and divide. When breast cancers have cells with more than 2 copies of the HER2 gene, this will generate too many HER2 receptors, and subsequently breast cancer cells grow and divide fast. This cancer is called HER2 positive.
This is cancer that has both HER2 and hormone receptors.
HR-negative, HER2-negative (also called triple-negative)
This cancer does not have HER2 or the receptors for the hormones estrogen and progesterone. Between 10–20% of breast cancers are triple-negative.