Stage 4 Breast Cancer Life Expectancy

Stage four of any type of cancer implies that the cancer has moved to other parts of the body and is not limited to the body part that was initially diagnosed. The cancer will have moved to the brain, lungs, liver and even the bones. Stage 4 breast cancer has usually been regarded as incurable. But recent advancements in research and medical science have resulted in the disease being treated as a chronic condition. This means more and more women are able to live longer lives when they are given better care and support and have high levels of personal motivation. When the cancer responds to the treatments, it allows its sufferers to live several years longer than expected.

Life Expectancy of Stage 4 Breast Cancer

According to the American Cancer Society, 22% of the patients live five years after being diagnosed of stage 4 breast cancer. Compared to earlier stages of the cancer, this rate is considerably lower. At stage two, the five year survival rate is at 90% and at stage three, it is 72%. This shows that an early diagnosis is important for better chances of survival.

Predicting survival rates for patients are never really accurate. Your age, general health, hormone receptors on cells with cancer, the type of tissue the cancer has affected and your general outlook on life all affect your stage 4 breast cancer life expectancy.

About 50% percent of women who are diagnosed with stage four breast cancer are still alive 18 months after their diagnosis. Over the years, life expectancy for stage four cancer has been steadily and slowly improving. This has been mainly due to combination treatment of surgery, radiation, multiple medications, and a much more positive support network.

What Are the Symptoms of Stage 4 Breast Cancer?

Women with stage four breast cancer can experience symptoms in the spine, hip, ribs, skull, pelvis, arms and legs. Walking, even for short distances, can become difficult and extremely painful. When the cancer reaches the lungs it can cause shortness of breath, difficulty breathing and a chronic, painful cough. Cancer cells in the liver do not display observable symptoms for a considerable amount of time. As the disease progresses, women can experience jaundice, fever and exaggerated weight loss as a result of the cancer spreading to the liver.

Treatments for Stage 4 Breast Cancer

Treatments at stage four of breast cancer do not cure the disease but slow down its effects, make you feel better, and perhaps make stage 4 breast cancer life expectancy longer.

1. Chemotherapy

This is the main type of treatment provided to patients with stage four breast cancer. It is usually used in combination with hormone therapy and helps to reduce the spread of cancer. There are different ways of getting chemo. You can either take pills or liquids or it can be injected directly into your veins.

2. Hormone Therapy

This treatment can be really helpful for women who have hormone receptor-positive cancers. This basically means that the cancer needs hormones to grow. For such women, medications under this treatment can prevent the cancer from getting the hormones. There are a variety of drugs that are administered for women who are postmenopausal. For women who haven't undergone menopause yet, removing their ovaries is an option to reduce the production of hormones.

3. Targeted Therapy

This is a relatively newer treatment. Among the women who are diagnosed with breast cancer, about 20% have been found to have too much of the protein known as HER2. This protein makes the cancer spread quickly. For such women, trastuzumab, also known as Herceptin, is prescribed to stop the protein from helping the cancer grow. This drug also boosts the immune system, allowing the body to fight the cancer on its own. This treatment is usually used in conjunction with chemotherapy.

4. Surgery and Radiation

These forms of treatment are used in certain cases. This treatment helps to relieve pain among patients and control symptoms in other parts of the body where the cancer had spread.

5. Clinical Trials

These are open to many women who have stage four breast cancer. Clinical trials are usually conducted to test out new treatments on patients who are willing. This can give the patient access to cutting edge treatments that would be otherwise unavailable.

Stage 4 Breast Cancer Survivor Stories

Following are stories from two survivors of breast cancer, told in their own narrative.

"I am Kathy from Littleton, Colorado. I had been a successful hairstylist till the March of 2013. I was used to the occasional back ache as I did most of my work standing up, but one day the backache was so bad I had to go to the hospital to get some relief. After getting an MRI, I received the news that I had stage four breast cancer that had metastasized in my bones. My stage 4 breast cancer life expectancy was only two months. When looking for treatment, I found the University of Colorado Anchutz Cancer Center. For a year I went through chemotherapy once a week, three biopsies and three rounds of radiation. After two years, I am still battling my cancer while living a healthy life. My doctors call this a miracle as I go to the gym five days a week, work for various cancer awareness organizations and recently started a new business."

"I am from Ohio and I was diagnosed with stage four breast cancer with liver metastases. My oncologist told me I had 18 months to live over five years ago. Not accepting that as fact, I went to Long Beach, California where a doctor was working on alternative research on cancer at the Rationale Therapeutics. Five years before I was diagnosed with cancer, I had had cardiac arrest and went through emergency heart bypass surgery. This made getting chemotherapy risky; but not doing anything was worse. At stage four breast cancer, I was considered terminal so I did not go for a mastectomy. Instead, my doctor used the breast tumor to monitor the progress of chemotherapy. For a whole year, I went through different rounds of chemotherapy, after which my scans showed that I had no cancer. Every three weeks, I received Herceptin for four years up until five weeks ago. That is when I learned that my heart had been affected by the chemo and I am now in congestive heart failure. I cannot receive more Herceptin to keep the cancer at bay till my heart gets stronger."

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