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Breast Cancer Metastasis to Liver

Aug 22, 2016

When cancer spreads to the liver, it is called "secondary liver cancer." It is also referred to by the same name as the original cancer. Breast cancer that has spread to the liver is known as, breast cancer metastasis to liver and will always be known as breast cancer. This is because the cancer cells that are found in the liver are still composed of breast cells. This is why it is different from primary liver cancer. This article explains how and when breast cancer spreads to the liver and what can be done to slow the progression.

Risks/Chances of Breast Cancer Metastasis to Liver

There are a slight number of cases early in cancer diagnosis that already have breast cancer metastasis to the liver. The number totals around less than 5 percent of all breast cancer diagnoses. In cases of early breast cancer that is still only in breast tissue, risk increases depending on the person, health status, and time after cancer treatment.

If you have been diagnosed with breast cancer metastases, there will be some increased challenges in treating and slowing the progression. It depends on the stage of cancer, the treatment, and time since diagnosis.

Metastasis occurs when the cancer has spread to the lymph nodes and hitches a ride into other organs. At first, the cancer goes into the lymph nodes near the armpit "axillary lymph nodes." At this stage, there is a possibility of curing the cancer. If the cancer moves beyond the axillary lymph nodes, there is no cure but it is treatable.

 Path of Breast Cancer Spreading to the Liver

Breast cancer spreading into your liver takes a certain path in stages. These are:

  • Invasion of Local Tissue

The cancer cells invade the local breast tissue and form tumors. The cells then grow into tissue around the breasts. It begins to take over all the healthy tissue in the area. The cancer moves outside of the breast tissue or "margins."

  • Lymph Node Invasion

 After moving out of the local area and into tissues outside the breast, the cancer enters lymphatic system. Once the lymph nodes are invaded, the cancer can move to any other organ in the body.

  •  Circulation

After entering the lymph nodes, the cancer then invades the circulation and travels through the bloodstream to distant organs. This can include the lungs, liver, brain, and bones.

  • Arrest and Invasion of Liver

Once the breast cancer cells reach the liver, they invade the blood vessels. This gives them blood supply to grow and invade the actual liver tissue.

  • Growth of Tumors

Now attached to healthy liver cells and blood supply, the breast cancer cells begin to form tumors in the liver tissue. These first tumors are small and known as, micrometastases.

  • Growth of Blood Supply

 In order to grow larger, the tumors begin to create their own blood supply. This draws in oxygen and nutrients from the body to feed the tumor.

Symptoms of Breast Cancer Metastasis to Liver

Metastatic breast cancer may grow silently in the body while you are completely unaware. Early on in metastatic liver cancer there might not be any signs or symptoms to alert you. As the cancer grows, you may experience liver swelling. This may cause the following symptoms:

  • Bloating of your abdomen
  • Very little appetite
  • Loss of weight
  • Dark urine
  • Yellow skin (Jaundice)
  • Right shoulder pain
  • Nausea and/or vomiting
  • Upper abdominal pain
  • Mass on upper right abdomen
  • Fever, chills, sweats
  • Confused thinking

Knowing the early symptoms can help you find and treat breast cancer that has metastasized to the liver early on and slow the progression of the disease.

Treatments for Breast Cancer Metastasis to Liver

When you get the news that breast cancer metastasis to liver is incurable you may go through a range of emotions. When breast cancer is only in the breast tissue or the lymph nodes in your armpit a cure is highly possible. Once cancer spreads beyond those areas, it is no longer curable. However, you can still receive treatment to slow the progression of the cancer.

Doctors usually focus treatment on extending life and increasing the quality in which you live. When determining treatment, they look at the following:

  • Your past treatments
  • How the cancer cells look
  • Symptoms
  • Extent of metastasis (lungs, brain, bones, liver)
  • Hormone receptor sensitivity

If your cancer cells are positive for hormone receptor sensitivity, they can give you hormone therapy treatments to trick the cancer cells into dying.

They can also do more rounds of chemotherapy and radiation to shrink any tumors and slow their growth. These treatments may also help reduce your symptoms. New symptoms may develop from side-effects of the treatments.

The side-effects of treatments include nausea, vomiting, anemia, loss of appetite, weight loss, and lowered immune response. Side-effects are treatable in order to continue aggressive therapy.

Response to Treatment

There is a chance of tumors becoming resistant to treatment. The drugs can halt cancer growth for a brief period. This is because the treatments aim to cut off anything that nourishes the cancer cells and stops them from reproducing. Cancer can be smart. In time the cancer may learn new ways to get nourishment and the medications no longer work.

To combat this from happening, doctors will monitor the response to treatments. If resistance occurs, they can switch drugs. They can also head this off by switching drugs in the very beginning of treatment for metastasis.

Every few months, your doctor will have you go in for cancer scans to see if the tumors are getting larger, shrinking, or staying the same size. A new treatment plan can be developed depending on the changes.

Prognosis

When breast cancer metastasizes to the liver, around 37 percent of women live at least 3 years after the metastasis is diagnosed. However, there are cases of women living as long as 10 years. The new hormone therapies are mostly responsible for the increased life expectancy.