The Big Myth: Mastectomy = Breast Cancer Can’t Return

I have to vent. Well, not actually vent. I need to point out the reality of Breast Cancer for those who are just ignorant of this disease.

I was told by a lady, not long after I had my last surgery, “you had a mastectomy, you can’t get breast cancer again.” I am sure she had no idea what the truth was.

That’s where most people get it all wrong. Having a mastectomy or bilateral mastectomy does not reduce your risk of developing a cancer recurrence elsewhere in your body.

Chances are you may never have a recurrence, but there are many who will. And just because you or I cut our boobs off doesn’t change the odds (30%-50%) that we will have a reoccurrence. Or that our breast cancer will metastasize! And by the way, it is never really gone. It hides, growing somewhere else in your body undetected for years. It generally takes 5 years for them to grow and divide enough time to be detected.

For those of us who’s breast cancer is ER+, we will either have to take hormone blockers or inhibitors to keep our cancer at bay. And sometimes this doesn’t always work.

Although metastatic breast cancer has spread to another part of the body, it is considered and treated as breast cancer. For example, breast cancer that has spread to the bones is still breast cancer (not bone cancer) and is treated with breast cancer drugs, rather than treatments for a cancer that began in the bones.

More commonly, metastatic (Stage IV) breast cancer arises months or years after a person has completed treatment for early or locally advanced (stage I, II or III) breast cancer. This is sometimes called distant recurrence.

The risk of breast cancer returning and metastasizing varies from person to person and depends greatly on the biology of the tumor and the strength of your personal chemistry set. The stage isn’t necessarily a guideline at the time original diagnosis. I have met woman who who Stage 1 at original diagnosis and it metastasized less than a year later.

As hard as it is to hear, metastatic breast cancer cannot be cured. Unlike breast cancer that remains in the breast or nearby lymph nodes, you cannot get rid of all the cancer that has spread to other organs.

This does not mean, however, that metastatic breast cancer cannot be treated.

Treatment of metastatic breast cancer focuses on length and quality of life. Your treatment plan is guided by many factors, including:

*Characteristics of the cancer cells

*Where the cancer has spread

*Your symptoms

*Past breast cancer treatments

*If the cancer is hormone receptor-positive, the first treatment is hormone therapy.

If the cancer is HER2-positive, anti-HER2 drugs such as trastuzumab (Herceptin) may be given.

Chemotherapy and radiation therapy can be used to shrink or slow the growth of tumors or to ease symptoms of the cancer itself. However, these therapies have side effects that can affect quality of life.

Talking about quality of life issues with your health care providers and your family can help you decide what treatments are best for you. Joining a support group may also help you think through these issues.

This is the reality of this disease. It sucks! It tears me up inside. It scares the shit out me! But I refuse to let it destroy me. I will not let it stop me from living my life. Yes, the meds make me sick, cause me to be on edge, but most of the time I don’t let it get to me. You tell me, if you had this lingering over you, would you not have a bad day every once in a while to keep a disease from progressing?

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