A 360-degree look at metastatic breast cancer
Breast Health Read personal insight from those who know the disease the best.
Dr Alistair Ring
Consultant Medical Oncologist, Royal Marsden Hospital
Whilst there is no cure for metastatic (advanced) breast cancer, focus remains on controlling the condition and improving quality of life.
“The treatment for primary breast cancer is cure driven,” explains Dr Alistair Ring, Consultant Medical Oncologist at The Royal Marsden Hospital. “When treating metastatic breast cancer, which is when the cancer has spread, we are looking to control the cancer for as long as possible and to maintain quality of life.”
"We can now determine the molecular makeup of cancer more accurately, leading to more targeted, personalised treatment."
Thanks to medical advancements, oncologists are now able to determine the molecular makeup of cancer more accurately, leading to more targeted and personalised treatment. There are also more therapies currently being trialled, including focused radiotherapy, which may be able to eliminate cancer completely in patients who have a small number of cancerous spots, known as oligometastases.
While a cure remains elusive, any advances that keep patients out of hospital and at home with their friends and family are met with great excitement. Just this month, researchers have reported a new, targeted treatment, which may delay the need for chemotherapy for up to one year. “Do these developments equate to a cure? Not yet. Are we getting better at controlling the condition? Absolutely,” concludes Dr Ring.
Dr Victoria Harmer
Macmillan Consultant Nurse at Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust
When it comes to metastatic breast cancer, few of us fully appreciate the impact of a diagnosis.
Having worked in breast care for over 17 years, Dr Victoria Harmer, Macmillan Consultant Nurse at Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust, has seen many women who feel isolated and excluded.
“A recent pan-European consumer study found nearly eight out of ten people didn’t know that metastatic breast cancer was incurable,” explains Dr Harmer. “The research also showed many women with the disease didn’t fully appreciate the implications of their diagnosis.”
"Eight out of ten people don’t know that metastatic breast cancer is incurable."
Women with metastatic breast cancer can live well for years, but many struggle with other issues in addition to their physical health. “When considering treatment, many things need to be taken into account including the psychological wellbeing of a patient, their socio-economic needs and their wider support network,” confirms Dr Harmer.
The good news is that continual assessment and the support of multidisciplinary teams are helping to improve both survival rates and quality of life for patients. “Support is getting better; standards of care and treatments are improving; and overall, the future is encouraging,” concludes Dr Harmer. A wider public appreciation of the challenges facing these women, would certainly help too.
A business translator who loves walking with her friends - Toyomi also happens to have cancer
A routine mammogram, followed by a biopsy in 2014, confirmed that Ms Wada had cancer. By late 2015 early 2016, she received confirmation that it had spread to her spine. Whilst Ms Wada’s schedule is now pretty full with scans, oncologist appointments and check-ups, nothing stops her living life the way she wants to.
“I’m fortunate that the drugs I’m on now I can take as tablets at home and there aren’t many side effects. Of course I do get tired and have to listen to my body, but I’m still working and getting on with life.”
“I believe that your body follows your mind, so I’m very optimistic.”
Thanks to the support of her great medical team the cancer has been contained, so Ms Wada’s only frustration comes from those who are unable to see past her condition. “It’s too much for people,” she says. “It’s almost like I have to comfort them through it. But for most people I’m just the same.”
In addition to the personal support she receives from her medical team, Ms Wada has found great encouragement from others living with cancer who she meets via a local charity. “None of us know what tomorrow will bring,” she says cheerfully. “So each day is a miracle, we must be thankful for.”
This article is funded by Novartis Pharmaceuticals UK Limited. Editorial control remains with the authors.