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Article: Huffington Post article brings attention to metastatic breast cancer

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How do early and breast cancer differ? Breast Cancer Alliance                       
Common misconceptions   Questions for your doctor               
Why breast cancer is difficult to treat? Resources and references


What is this article about?

“When breast cancer moves to the brain or bones or lungs or liver, the conception is that you now have brain cancer or bone cancer or lung cancer or liver cancer,” writes Barbara Jacoby in her Huffington Post piece, “How do breast cancer and breast cancer differ?”

October is National Breast Cancer Awareness month, which aims to increase attention and awareness regarding breast cancer. According to the World Health Organization, “When breast cancer is detected early, and if adequate diagnosis and treatment are available, there is a good change that breast cancer can be cured.”

However, Jacoby brings attention to the fact that patients with breast cancer feel like “the forgotten ones” that “have not been understood and/or heard by the general population.”  In her essay, she explains how breast cancer differs from early breast cancer.

What is the difference between early breast cancer and breast cancer?

Patients with early breast cancer have cancer that stays in the breast or moves to the underarm .

Locally advanced disease is breast cancer that spreads to the chest wall, breast skin or other , like the ones in the breast.

A patient has advanced or ( IV) breast cancer when his/her cancer spreads beyond the breast and nearby in the armpit to other organs, such as the lungs, liver, bones, or brain.

Common misconceptions about breast cancer

Some terms used when talking about breast cancer can be confusing.  One common misunderstanding is how to talk about breast cancer after it has spread to other organs. Jacoby points this out in her article, explaining that even when breast cancer spreads to the lungs, liver, or brain, it is still breast cancer, or as she notes, “A cancer is identified by its origin and not by a location to which it has advanced.”

Media reports sometime use the terms “” and “ cancer” to describe breast cancer that has spread to the .  But it is important to remember that breast cancer has moved beyond the breast and , traveled through the blood stream and/or the lymphatic system to other organs where it continues to grow. Patients who have breast cancer that has progressed to the have cancer that has spread, but it is not breast cancer.

Although identifying and treating cancer at its earliest stages often prevents it from spreading to other parts of the body, early detection doesn’t guarantee that won’t occur, or that it hasn’t already occurred at the time of diagnosis. Jacoby notes that some patients are initially diagnosed with breast cancer.

Finally, Jacoby reminds the reader that not all breast cancers are alike. Just as they differ based on subtype, breast cancer is different than early breast cancer.

What are the difficulties in treating breast cancer?

Patients’ response to treatment is extremely variable, according to Jacoby. A patient may respond well to a drug for a month, when it then stops working; another patient may never show a positive response to the same drug. Some patients may have minimal side effects while taking a drug while others may have an extremely difficult time with the same drug.

We need good treatment options for all breast cancer patients; this can only become a reality with increased funding for research that targets cancer, as well as based on the type of breast cancer and presence or absence of inherited mutations in genes that increase cancer risk. 

Nonprofits and industry working together

Jacoby’s article spotlights breast cancer, primarily for the general public.  Another effort with similar focus is The Breast Cancer Alliance (MBCA). This coalition of nonprofits, includes FORCE, our XRAYS partners (Living Beyond Breast Cancer, Tigerlily, Triple Step Toward the Cure, and the Young Survival Coalition), and industry partners who formed in 2013 to identify and address issues facing people with breast cancer. In 2014, MBCA published a landscape analysis identifying the need for more funds to be directed to breast cancer research.

Highlights of the MBCA findings include:

  • Only 7% of the $15 billion that was invested in breast cancer research from 2000-2013 by major governmental and nonprofit funders from North America and the United Kingdom was dedicated to breast cancer.
  • Breast cancer research is usually performed on tissue taken from patients with , primary breast cancer—not from patients with breast cancer.
  • Not enough funding is allocated toward translational, clinical, or cancer control research for breast cancer—the majority goes to basic research.
  • Basic research needs to uncover all steps in the , which will help with the development of new treatments.

The MBCA analysis also identified gaps in the understanding of the epidemiology of breast cancer, including:

  • an accurate estimate of how many men and women are living with breast cancer.
  • a better understanding of how many people diagnosed with breast cancer go on to develop breast cancer.
  • research on how cancer subtypes (Her2+, ER+/PR+, triple negative) affects outcomes for patients with breast cancer.
  • the impact of socioeconomic factors on treatment, care, and quality of life.

The landscape analysis also looked at the quality of life for women and men with breast cancer, availability of support services, and the state of public awareness of breast cancer.

Posted 10/9/16

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World Health Organization Breast Cancer Awareness Month

Jacoby, B, “How Do Breast Cancer and Breast Cancer Differ?”, Huffington Post, August 29, 2016

Breast Cancer Alliance “Changing the Landscape for People Living with Breast Cancer,” October 2014 

This article is relevant for:

People diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer

This article is also relevant for:

people with metastatic or advanced cancer

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Questions To Ask Your Doctor
Questions To Ask Your Doctor

  • I have breast cancer; should I have genetic testing?
  • Who should I contact to have genetic testing?
  • Should I have additional testing on my tumor to guide my treatment? 
  • What else can I do to maximize my health and wellbeing?

Peer Support
Peer Support

The following organizations offer peer support services for people with, or at high risk for breast cancer:

Updated: 05/07/2024

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