We never really know how strong we are until finding our strength is the only choice left. Cancer survivors know this better than anyone else. Most will testify that having access to reliable information and strong support networks has made all the difference. Women find it much easier to stay informed on the latest scientific findings in the battle against the disease and ways to detectit at an early stage. Breast Cancer Arabia reports that while there are breast cancer awareness programs in the region, only a few give in depth information on the disease. As it is, much remains to be said about how the disease develops and spreads in the patient’s body. As metastaticbreast cancer (mBC), stage IV breast cancerthat spreads outside the breast area is the most common cause of death for patients with BC- a serious issue and unfortunately a taboo in most societies2.
mBC is breast cancer that has metastasized beyond the breasts to other organs in the body including the lungs, bones, brain or liver. It is also the most advanced stage of breast cancer, making it the most critical.
The Asian Pacific Journal of Cancer Prevention found that the MENA region has a higher number of advanced stage breast cancer cases than developed countries. For instance, 62% of breast cancer cases in Saudi Arabia are diagnosed as stage III and IV, while only 6-8% of such cases are reported in Europe or North America.
Yet most breast cancer campaigns and awareness movements in the regionhardly talk aboutmBC. How often have you heard or seen campaigns calling for action onmBC? Bio Medical Central Women’s Health found that there is a communication void when it comes to support for women with mBC despite the fact that 30% of women with early breast cancer will eventually develop metastatic breast cancer.
Cancer remains a sensitive topic in this region, as many women fear the stigma of breast cancer and hesitate to seek help at the early onset of the disease8. More action must be taken tocreate awareness and enhance existing knowledge on mBC’s diagnosis and its effects on women’s lives.
So what is mBC?
mBCis the most advanced stage of breast cancer (or stage IV)
Most women diagnosed with mBChave an average of 2-3 years more to live but there are women who beat the odds. Many women were able to carry on with longer survival rates and pursue fruitful and meaningful years that exceed this rate by far.
In developed countries, approximately 30% of women affected by breast cancer, may progress to mBC
A greater portion of breast cancer cases in the MENA region are at an advanced stage as compared to Europe or North America
Treatment for mBC lasts one’s entire life and focuses on control of the disease and quality of life
There are no conclusive statistics for mBC. Each patient and their disease is unique
Unlike breast cancer, an early detection of mBC does not mean a cure in every case.Metastatic breast cancer can occur 5, 10 or 15 years after a person's original diagnosis and successful treatment checkups and annual mammograms
Women living with mBC have been largely forgotten in the public discussion on breast cancer
The MBC Alliance, in 2014, reported that research funding for mBCaccounts for only 7% of the total breast cancer research investment
Most countries need further professional capacity building to provide the holistic, multi-disciplinary approach required by mBC patients
While there is positive news for any breast cancer patient that mBC is not present yet, it will be vital to continue with regular checkups as anyone who underwent an earlier stage of breast cancer is prone to a metastatic recurrence21.Women and men (yes, men get breast cancer too!) should stay vigilant with their health and seek help immediately.
Living with breast cancer, especially mBC can be a tumultuous and fearful experience for most women. While October is almost synonymous to breast cancer awareness, there is no focus on mBC in the region. Therefore as part of society and member of the community, we must work together to increase awareness and access to information around mBC. With the main aim that women with mBCfeel supported, heard and empowered.