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Prolonging Life: Latest Advances in Metastatic Breast Cancer Treatments

While October 13 is designated as Metastatic Breast Cancer Awareness Day nationally, individuals grappling with this illness face a daily struggle.

Approximately one in eight American women has a risk of developing breast cancer, with around 30% of cases eventually progressing to metastasis, where the cancer spreads to other parts of the body.

Dr. Carey Anders from the Duke Cancer Institute highlighted that breast cancer has the potential to metastasize to various areas such as the bone, lung, liver, and brain.

Different types of breast cancer exhibit varying tendencies to spread to the brain among patients already dealing with metastatic breast cancer. For instance, there is a higher occurrence of brain metastasis in individuals with metastatic HER2-positive or metastatic triple-negative breast cancer, as noted by Anders.

One of Dr. Anders’ patients, Elizabeth Levene, received the distressing news of her cancer metastasizing in 2018, two years post her initial cancer diagnosis. Following chemotherapy, radiation, and surgery to remove a lump in her left breast, Levene faced recurrent hospitalizations due to dehydration.

Shortly after completing treatment, she underwent a similar process to eliminate another cancerous lump in her right breast. Despite believing she was cancer-free after the second diagnosis, Levene’s hopes were shattered upon discovering brain tumors resulting from the metastasized cancer.

Opting for SRS radiation, a treatment method utilizing targeted gamma rays on specific brain tumor areas, Levene successfully eradicated the cancer. However, the treatment led to three brain surgeries and persistent mobility challenges due to brain swelling, affecting her right arm’s coordination and balance.

Struggling with physical limitations, Levene had to discontinue her job and now undergoes regular physical therapy sessions to regain strength in her right shoulder and arm. Additionally, her treatment regimen incorporates antibody infusion therapy, which targets HER2 on cancer cells, delivering chemotherapy directly to combat the disease.

While breast cancer boasts a promising five-year survival rate of 90%, the scenario changes drastically once it metastasizes to the brain, often reducing life expectancy to a matter of months. However, personalized treatment plans like infusion therapies have shown potential in extending patients’ lives, as exemplified by Levene’s journey.

Approaching the sixth anniversary of her metastatic breast cancer diagnosis in 2024, Levene cherishes each year as a gift, expressing gratitude for the moments shared with her family. Her resilience and endurance offer hope and inspiration to fellow patients navigating similar diagnoses, serving as a beacon of strength amidst adversity.