Triple Negative Breast Cancer

Metastatic Disease

A metastatic triple-negative breast cancer diagnosis can be overwhelming and brings with it concerns about treatment options, finances and more. Still, progress is being made every day in triple-negative breast cancer research. You are not alone.

Metastatic breast cancer is also referred to as advanced or Stage IV breast cancer. When breast cancer spreads, or metastasizes, it typically lands in the liver, lungs, brain or bones. Some patients are diagnosed with metastatic disease during follow-up appointments or during evaluation of symptoms in those organs such as persistent cough, shortness of breath or bone pain. Others with triple-negative breast cancer are diagnosed with advanced disease from the beginning.

When breast cancer spreads to another part of the body, it is still considered breast cancer. For example, triple-negative breast cancer that has metastasized to the lung is still breast cancer, not lung cancer, and will be treated with the breast cancer therapy you decide on with your medical team.

A cure is not yet available for Stage IV breast cancer. As a result, the goal of treatment is to control the growth of the cancer while providing the highest quality of life possible. Your doctor will work closely with you to identify the treatment that works best for you. Ongoing advances in research are resulting in treatments that let many people with metastatic breast cancer live longer, with a good quality of life.

Monitoring your cancer

Tracking your disease’s response to treatment is an important part of your overall care plan. To monitor your cancer, you will undergo routine testing. If that testing shows that your treatment is not slowing or stopping the growth of your cancer, you and your health care team will consider alternative treatment options.

Several types of tests can help monitor the cancer’s response to treatment. These tests include imaging studies, tumor marker testing and a blood test that measures a special type of tumor cell in the blood. Often, more than one test is needed to determine how well treatment is working. To have a baseline for comparison with later studies, your doctor will perform one or more of these studies before starting treatment.

You will probably have routine visits with your doctor during treatment. Use these visits to tell your doctor about any new or changing symptoms. Pain relief, easier breathing or increased energy could be signs that the cancer is responding to treatment. Depending on the sites of metastasis, your doctor may be able to tell if treatment is working by doing a physical exam. For example, if a lymph node is a site of metastasis, your doctor may be able to feel that the node has gotten smaller, which means that the metastasis has shrunk.

Together, your input and the results of ongoing, specific testing can tell you and your doctor how well your treatment is working.

Shifting your treatment course

Your treatment may need to be adjusted depending on how your body responds and the progression of the disease. If you feel like you need a break from treatment, talk with your medical team. Your doctor may suggest a different treatment or a different dosage of your current treatment. Weigh the pros and cons, and consider how the corresponding side effects fit into your idea of a good quality of life before you make a decision. Changing your chemotherapy dosage or managing your side effects differently could improve how you feel.

If you have tried multiple treatment options that are no longer working, you may reach a time when you choose to stop treatment altogether. Talk with your doctor about your feelings. You likely will receive input from others on your medical team as well as family members and friends, but the decisions are yours to make.

If you make that difficult decision, you are strongly encouraged to investigate hospice care, where efforts are focused on managing symptoms and supporting the patient and family, but not using cancer therapies. Hospice care can take place at home or in a hospice center and offers physical, emotional and spiritual support for you and your loved ones.

Exploring clinical trials

Clinical trials are a valuable, potentially life-saving treatment option to consider. Through clinical trials, researchers and doctors are learning more about triple-negative breast cancers and how they respond to treatment. If you qualify for a clinical trial, you will have access to leading-edge treatments, such as immunotherapy and targeted therapy, that aren’t yet available to the public.

There are many reasons to consider participating in a clinical trial:

  • As someone living with TNBC, you have a unique cancer and could benefit from these leading-edge treatment options.
  • Your current treatment may not be working as well as expected.
  • A clinical trial may significantly improve your quality of life. Discuss your personal situation with your medical team, so they understand your expectations for side effects.
  • By simply participating, you play an integral role in helping refine and improve the way millions of people with cancer are treated.

Successes from other clinical trial participants may inspire you to volunteer. Keep in mind that not everyone responds to treatments in the same way, so you cannot expect an identical experience in response to treatment or side effects.

You can research clinical trials at any time during your treatment. Regardless of when you enroll in a trial, participating will not jeopardize your guarantee to receive the standard of care.

Ask your doctor if you are a candidate for a clinical trial, or search online for available clinical trials starting with the two below.

 

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