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October 13 is Metastatic Breast Cancer Awareness Day.
Now that it’s autumn, we’re seeing the changing of the seasonal colors, from a hot summer to a Pepto-Bismol October.
Yep, it’s October again which means that it’s Breast Cancer Awareness Month.
Now please understand, I’m not hating on Breast Cancer Awareness Month. What I’m frustrated about is the empty “Go Pink” campaigns & how they can actually harm our patients.
For example, pink tends to exclude our patients with metastatic breast cancer. While pink is a staple of breast cancer awareness month, the metastatic breast cancer community may use other colors for their awareness, such as teal, green, &/or black.
What is metastatic breast cancer?
Metastatic breast cancer (mBC) is breast cancer that has spread distantly from the original tumor site. mBC commonly spreads via the lymphatic system or the bloodstream & is much more challenging to treat.
According to Metavivor.org, about 30% of patients with early stage breast cancer will have their cancer recur as metastatic breast cancer.
Metastases can occur months to years after “successful” breast cancer treatment.
Less than a quarter of patients with metastatic breast cancer will live more than 5 years after mBC diagnosis. The 10 year survival rate is about 11%. Dismal.
There is no cure for metastatic breast cancer.
Metastatic breast cancer is what kills patients with breast cancer. Treatment is to manage symptoms & prolong life expectancy.
The spread of metastatic breast cancer to other organs is what really makes metastatic breast cancer the killer it is.
As a side-note soap box, I believe part of why metastatic breast cancer is so underfunded, so poorly understood, & so problematic is the oversexualization of breast cancer. Breasts are sexy, breast cancer is pink, & nobody likes to think about boobs killing somebody. However, here we are, in 2022 with still no cure for metastatic breast cancer in a world where companies & corporations “go pink” every October as a PR campaign. Anyways, off my soapbox now.
Only about 5% of all funding for breast cancer research goes towards metastatic breast cancer research.
Metastatic Breast Cancer has limited treatment options
As I mentioned previously, treatment options for metastatic breast cancer are significantly limited.
Patients may undergo chemotherapy, immunotherapy, hormonal therapy, or even surgery or radiation to treat their metastatic breast cancer.
Chemotherapy, immunotherapy, & hormonal therapy may be used in attempts to halt or slow the progression of mBC, while radiation & surgery can be used for symptom management, such as bone mets, etc.
When a patient experiences progression while on a certain treatment, the treatment may be changed to include different agents to see if they will halt or slow progression of mBC.
Clinical trials are also heavily used in treating mBC, with the hope that this will be the treatment that cures mBC. Many of my patients with mBC were enrolled in clinical trials & it’s been a very interesting learning experience along the way.
The realm of treatments used for metastatic breast cancer is expanding, but still none are curative.
What can we as the OncoPT do for metastatic breast cancer?
- In clinical practice:
- Treat patients with mBC
- Educate patients on potentially problematic signs & symptoms (new pain of unknown origin, progressive symptoms, “something just not right”)
- Screen patients for red flags
- In our advocacy
- Educate our peers on common impairments patients with mBC experience
- Educate peers/colleagues (& ourselves) on how to be safe treating patients with mBC
- With our dollars
- Support organizations that actually contribute financially to metastatic breast cancer organizations
So this October, as the US pinks out, please make sure you are considering where the money is going when supporting various companies & corporations who are “going pink.” Ask the hard questions: how much money is going to support breast cancer research? What organizations are you supporting? Are you supporting metastatic breast cancer research?
Until next time, this is Elise with TheOncoPT. And remember you are exactly the physical therapist that your patients with cancer need. So let’s get to work.