Imagine sitting in a stadium cheering on your favorite team with over 42,000 other fans — then, in the blink of an eye, the entire stadium is empty.
Now imagine this happening again, year after year.
Each year, over 42,000 people are lost to metastatic breast cancer (MBC), also known as stage IV breast cancer. Right now, over 154,000 women and an unknown number of men in the U.S. are living with MBC, trying to make the most of the time they still have.
While many have heard about MBC, it is also frequently misunderstood. Here are some answers to the most frequently asked questions about the disease.
What is metastatic breast cancer?
MBC is not a type of breast cancer, rather it is the most advanced stage of the disease. MBC is breast cancer that has spread beyond the breast to other parts of the body, most often to the bones, lungs, liver and/or brain.
Is there a cure for MBC?
While patients can receive treatment to help manage the disease, there is currently no cure for metastatic breast cancer.
Who is likely to develop MBC?
No one is immune from developing MBC. People currently living with MBC represent all ages, races and genders.
While some patients, about 6% of women and 8% of men, are initially diagnosed with MBC, most were treated for earlier stages of breast cancer, only to find it later returned as a metastatic disease — even as long as twenty years later. The hard truth for everyone diagnosed with early stage breast cancer is that the risk of recurrence never goes away.
It’s important for everyone who has ever had a breast cancer diagnosis to know about the risk of recurrence, and to recognize the signs and symptoms of recurrence. Any signs and symptoms should be immediately reported to a doctor.
“I was first diagnosed with stage I breast cancer in 2013,” said Carol Smith, currently living with MBC. “I had two surgeries, four rounds of chemotherapy and thirty rounds of radiation. Then I started living my life. I was eating right, I was running, I played tennis, I was in the best shape of my life. Then in late 2015 I started having back pain. I thought I had just pulled a muscle. It got worse, and we did an MRI and discovered my breast cancer had moved into my spine. I was diagnosed with stage IV metastatic breast cancer. I had spinal surgery and started on several drugs. The cancer spread into more of my bones, and in 2018 into my liver.”
What help is available for patients with MBC?
Susan G. Komen, the world’s leading nonprofit breast cancer organization, offers support and assistance to patients coping with MBC, in addition to funding research to discover breakthroughs for metastatic disease.
“Initially, I didn’t go to the doctor to check it out. I kept brushing it off, thinking it was going to go away,” said Shameria Howell, diagnosed with MBC at age 28. “Because I didn’t have insurance, I didn’t have the money to pay for the costly appointments and procedures. Susan G. Komen actually funded my ultrasound and biopsy. They paid for all of that. I don’t live my life worrying about the disease. I just live. I have two kids. You just keep moving. You keep living.”
What efforts are being made to find a cure for MBC?
As the leading non-profit funder of breast cancer research, Susan G. Komen is committed to discovering breakthroughs, through research, to save lives. They have invested more than $1 billion in research since our founding, and they have dedicated more than 70% of their 2019 research grants to combat metastatic breast cancer. In fact, Komen has funded more than $210 million in MBC research since its founding, supporting more than 500 research grants, including more than 50 clinical trials focused on MBC.
For example, the next round of research grant funding is focused on applying a simple blood test, known as a liquid biopsy, to metastatic breast cancer. This technology is being developed so that doctors can detect the metastatic disease even before symptoms arise, allowing them to monitor treatment responses earlier, and to develop more effective personalized treatment plans.
This October, Susan G. Komen announced a new MBC Fund dedicated to funding research breakthroughs specifically for metastatic breast cancer, and to help alleviate the suffering of those with metastatic breast cancer. All proceeds from this fund will be 100% dedicated to discovering breakthroughs for MBC and to ease the financial burden faced by countless women and men who are undergoing MBC treatment today. Many women and men are faced with the difficult choice of getting the treatment they need to save their life or putting food on the table for their families. Some can’t get to treatment because of transportation or they lack child care. Through the MBC Fund, Komen will be able to help them with these basic life expenses, so that they can focus on getting the treatment they need.
Komen is working to improve the quality of life and care of those living with metastatic breast cancer, as well as discover new, more effective treatments that will prolong their lives, so they have more time with the ones they love.
How you can help support those with metastatic breast cancer
If you or someone you love needs help, Komen helps those living with MBC by hosting educational events nationwide, and by providing information and support through Breast Care and Clinical Trial Information Helplines at 1-877-GO-KOMEN (1-877-465-6636). Komen also offers financial assistance to eligible applicants through its Treatment Assistance Program, as well as mobilizing advocates for federal research funding and government policy changes removing barriers to care.
To learn more and to support research and patient care through the MBC Fund, visit www.komen.org/MBC.