Overcoming the odds and living with MBC
By Kathryn E. Vinson, MS, CCRC
It is a sad fact of life that once a person reaches adulthood, the majority of us have been impacted in some way by breast cancer. Maybe it is your mom, your aunt, your grandmother, or a close family friend – but it seems like almost all of us have been touched by that beast. For me, it was my grandmother when I was in junior high. Although her multiple types of breast cancers have been at the early stages, she still endured life-changing treatments. For the last 25 years, she has fought hard, and fortunately, she is still with us. But what about the ladies that are diagnosed with advanced breast cancers? What does that mean for them and their loved ones? With that, let’s take some time today to talk about stage 4 breast cancer, its survival rate, and new research into living with metastatic breast cancer.
What is stage 4 breast cancer?
We hear stage 4 breast cancer discussed in many terms – from simply stage 4 to metastatic breast cancer (MBC) to advanced breast cancer – they all indicate that cancer that started in the breast has traveled to other parts of the body. Contrary to what many think, the primary tumor in the breast can be of any size – it could be small – but what defines stage 4 breast cancer is that it has traveled to other organs, distant (not regional) lymph nodes, or the chest wall. Furthermore, MBC is not a specific type of breast cancer – it only refers to the spread – it can be any type of breast cancer.
While this type of cancer is most often seen in a progression from an earlier stage, aggressive cancers, in about 6% of all breast cancer cases, stage 4 is the initial diagnosis. This is also known as de novo metastatic disease, in contrast to disease that has progressed or recurred. The Komen center estimates that in 2020, the United States will have about 168,000 women living with MBC.
What is the survival rate for stage 4 breast cancer?
The five-year survival rate for stage 4 breast cancer will depend on many things, but the value seen most often is about 27%. It is important to remember that five-year survival rates are based upon diagnoses that occurred at least five years ago. I bring this up because of the amazing progress that is being made every day in cancer research. The data below-median survival time from diagnosis among age groups across time.
|15-49 years||22.3 months||38.7 months|
|50-64 years||19.1 months||29.7 months|
|15—49 years de novo||18% five-year survival||36% five-year survival|
In the same study where this data was derived, it was also noted that among women diagnosed between 200-2004, and in the under 64 age group, greater than 11% of women had survived for ten or more years.
While these numbers are still low, even terrifyingly low – we are seeing progress. As I mentioned before – the type of cancer, hormone receptor state, and estrogen sensitivity all make a difference in stage four breast cancer survival rates.
Current research into MBC
Recent research released by scientists working together at the MD Anderson Cancer Center, the Olivia Newton-John Cancer Research Institute, and the Peter McCallum Cancer Centre has shown great promise in preventing earlier stage breast cancers from progressing to MBC. The researchers found that a protein known as BMP4 is active when we are in the womb, and even into our adult lives in certain organs. When this protein is inactive, breast cancer spreads easier; when researchers were able to activate this protein – breast cancer did not spread as easily. What an amazing discovery that might help prevent the spread of breast cancer!
As always, much love, many prayers, and abundant blessings to all of the warriors out there!!