10 important signs of metastatic breast cancer you often ignore

Missed signs of metastatic breast cancer

Signs of metastatic breast cancer are calm and not aggressive earlier but hidden and you can easily misinterpret them.

Are you aware of breast cancer sufficiently? Do you know how invasive breast cancer is and the hidden signs that you can easily miss?

In the year 2020, 2.3 million women were recognized with breast cancer, and among them 685000 deaths. Similarly, there is a 1/1000 probability for men to be diagnosed with breast cancer.

By looking at these calculations you can identify how big the/ impact of breast cancer is.


Why should you be aware of signs of metastatic breast cancer?

Early detection of the signs of metastatic breast cancer is the key to treating and saving lives from metastatic breast cancer. It has helped to increase the survival time of metastatic breast cancer. Usually, patients detect breast cancers by lumps of the breast you can feel externally. Fortunately, most women are aware of these factors and keep themselves cared for.

However, there are some hidden signs and symptoms that you might have missed or mistaken with any other conditions. 

1.Nipple and breast pain

Normally breast cancer or metastatic breast cancer doesn’t show any symptoms or pains at earlier stages.

However, some patients may ignore and mistake the pain in the nipple area or entire breast. You should not avoid paying attention to those minor changes in your body.

Because of the silent damage to the cells, it may generate pain in the following regions.

  • Around your nipple
  • Area of breast
  • Entire breast

You may feel the pain differently. Some patients have said they feel a burning sensation with this pain. This may often be inflammatory breast cancer.

What is inflammatory breast cancer?

This is an aggressive type of breast cancer. Breast cancer cells attack the lymph nodes and vessels in the skin of the breast. Then it produces inflammatory responses. That is why the skin becomes red, swollen, and inflamed.

  • Inflammatory breast cancer is more popular in younger women.
  • Obese women often may develop this type of breast cancer.

In essence, you should not avoid any unusual pain in your breasts, and pay close attention to them. It is one of the hidden and ignored signs of metastatic breast cancer.

2.Nipple discharge

Abnormal secretions from the nipple indicate major signs of metastatic breast cancer. However, usually, nipple discharges may be absolutely normal.

These secretions may come out of the nipple when you are squeezing or compressing. The discharges have

  • Thin or thick consistency
  • Clear fluid
  • White, yellow, green, or red in color

Important to mention if you are having bloody nipple discharge you must tell your doctor. Because although nipple discharge may be non-cancerous and normal, bloody secretions are never normal.

In addition, these nipple discharges can vary according to the other conditions as well. For instance,

  • Side effects of other medications if you are taking
  • Infections of the breast
  • Changes in the body’s physiological functions
  • As a side effect of birth control pills
  • Certain medical diseases like thyroid gland abnormalities

Usually, breastfeeding women can experience some milky discharges even when they do not breastfeed. That is normal as their condition.

If you have these types of abnormal discharges do not try to make it worse. Most women are aware of this. They try to squeeze and compress and pull those secretions out of the nipple. This can cause damage to the nipple area and even worsen the condition. If you leave the nipple alone for a while it can improve the condition.

If you have any lumps on your breast it is best to pay attention to nipple discharges. Because this can increase the likelihood of breast cancer. Although abnormal nipple discharges are one of the important diagnostic signs of metastatic breast cancer, women can easily miss this sign.

Abnormal nipple discharges that you can mistake with cancer.

There are certain conditions that nipple discharges may happen but they are non-cancerous.

  • Breast infection

In the inflammatory condition known as “mastitis”, nipples can secrete pus-like fluids. The presence of pus is an indication of an infection. Usually, this is popular with breastfeeding women. In contrast, non-lactating women also may have these discharges.

Probably this type of secretions may not belong to the signs of metastatic breast cancer.

However, abscesses or wounds can inflame the skin of the breast and it will be a good indicator of infection.

  • Intraductal papilloma

This is not cancer. It is just a benign condition. Usually, this arises near the nipple and it is a wart-like lump. These cell collections come from the ducts of the milk-producing glands of the breast. In addition, the discharging fluid may be bloody like a substance.

Although intraductal papilloma is not painful some patients feel discomfort around the affected area. Generally, this papilloma does not induce breast cancer.

  • Mammary duct ectasia

This is also a benign condition and not cancerous. This happens when the milk gland ducts’ walls become thick and wide. This causes the ducts to be blocked and build-up fluid in those areas. This is common in women who are near menopause.

Other than these conditions, you should be aware and pay attention to discharges and secretions from your breast. Sometimes those simple signs of metastatic breast cancer can be hidden and misunderstood.

3.Nipple turning inward

The nipple may invert towards the breast, except when stimulated. It becomes flat and small. Nipple inversion is not only caused by metastatic breast cancer. Various other conditions are responsible for that state.

This is one of the common signs of metastatic breast cancer. The cancer cells damage the ducts of milk glands behind and near the nipple causing the inversion of the nipple. The tumor pulls the nipple towards the breast.

You might think this is normal. Conversely, you should discuss this with your doctor. However, by simply observing the nature of the nipple, the doctor cannot diagnose you with breast cancer. He or she does some other screening tests and laboratory testing to confirm.

How can you identify an inverted nipple?

Inverted nipples don’t appear towards the outside. It turned towards inside. However, certain factors like manual stimulation, or environmental stimulation like suck, cold, or touch can erect the nipple.

When you see a doctor, if he suspects the inverted nipple with cancer, he will use a needle biopsy to confirm. This means he just removed a tissue sample from the nipple and areola area of the breast for further investigations.

4.Swelling of the hands and feet

This is one of the prominent signs of metastatic breast cancer.

Breast cancer metastases mostly to bones, brain, lung, and liver. Among them bone metastasis is abundant. However, when the primary tumor of the breast cancer metastases and develops secondary tumors in the liver, certain signs arise.

The liver metastasis of breast cancer has several steps. Also, it needs various factors from the breast cancer cells and the features of the liver microenvironment.

Factors of breast cancer cellsFactors of the liver environment
Inflammatory factorsHypoxia-inducible factor-regulated genes
Chemokines and chemokine receptorsRole of vasculature
Cell adhesion molecules like cadherin, integrin complexes, Ig-SF, CD44Changes in hormonal receptor status and HER-2
Role of claudinsRole of sinusoidal capillaries

When breast cancer metastases to the liver, it often doesn’t cause any signs or symptoms. However, it can show some significant signs of metastatic breast cancer.

Due to the collection of fluids in the ends of the body, hands, and, feet swell. The excess fluid accumulates in the ankles, feet and hands. So the edema of those areas can be seen.

This sign is easily mistaken for other diseases like kidney and liver diseases. Important to mention if you see such signs even without any discomfort seeking urgent medical advice can be life-saving.

5.Thickening of breast skin

The changes in the skin of the breast are one of the major signs of metastatic breast cancer. This can easily be missed and ignored sometimes as patients think the skin condition is normal. They might think the skin changes are due to climate changes or age or something else.

In metastatic breast cancer, the skin of the breast becomes dry, and the texture changes. Because breast cancer causes inflammation, those changes will be present on the skin. The inflammatory responses begin since the body identifies cancer cells as foreign. Our body tries to remove them. Hence inflammation and certain foreign cells damage symptoms start. Those reactive responses caused in the skin lead to various changes in the skin of breasts.

  • The skin of the breasts become thick
  • The surface of the skin looks like an orange peel.
  • The texture of the skin has changed
  • Scaly skin in the nipple and areola
  • Skin looks like sunburned
  • Breasts’ skin becomes extremely dry

With these changes, some patients are going to itch and the condition worsens.

Those signs of metastatic breast cancer are common but underestimated and misunderstood. Since these changes do not happen only with breast cancer, intense observation and diagnostic procedures are needed to confirm if you have breast cancer.

Your job is to find those changes at the right time. As previously said, early detection is the key to the survival progress of breast cancer. If the doctors can diagnose breast cancer at earlier stages probably it can delay the process of cancer growth and development.

If it is successful you can delay the metastasis process of breast cancer.

  • Extreme fatigue

Among the hidden signs of metastatic breast cancer, do you think fatigue is on the top of the list? Moreover, extreme tiredness or fatigue is one of the most common signs of metastatic breast cancer and other cancers as well.

Why does metastatic breast cancer cause tiredness?

Any cancer can change the normal protein of the body. Similarly, breast cancer can do that process. When you do not know breast cancer is growing inside your body, you might think this is normal fatigue.

The excessive stress on body cells put by the cancer cells causes cell damage. Then your body will not work as normal. That is why you feel tired even when you are at rest or when you are doing even a simple task.

How does cancer fatigue differ from normal fatigue?

Cancer fatigue cannot be reduced by simply sleeping, resting, and relaxing. It persists for a long period. It can affect patients’ quality of life. In other words, extreme tiredness throughout the day leads to

  • Sleep disturbances
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Various other mental problems.

This can cause a reduction in patients’ engagement in daily activities.

  • Double vision

Double vision means when you see an object or person you see it or them as two objects or persons. This belongs to important signs of metastatic breast cancer.

In female breast cancer, an attack to the eye orbit is common in its primary metastasis. However, secondary tumors in eye tissues are rare in female breast cancer.

If you sense any changes in your vision, you should be aware of those changes. Because it may show important signs of metastatic breast cancer.

Usually, researchers do not discuss ocular metastasis in breast cancer. Conversely, it can cause some negligible effects on your eyesight.

Orbital metastases are rare. To clarify it only occurs in 2%-3% of cancer patients. Among those patients 12%-31% experience ocular metastasis as their first signs of metastatic breast cancer.

Clinical symptoms of eye metastasis are,

  • Proptosis – eye comes forward from the eye cavity.
  • Diplopia –
  • Blurred vision
  • Exophthalmos – eye comes forward from the eye cavity or orbital cavity
  • Pain
  • Visible or palpital abnormal mass of cells in the orbital (eye bone) region or periorbital region

According to a publication in 2011, a woman had pain in the orbital area before she was diagnosed with breast cancer.

It also describes breast cancer metastases to the eye that tend to infiltrate the extraocular muscle and the fat layer around the eye. This fat layer or adipose tissue is for the protection of your eye.

Although rare, if you have breast cancer but you do not know, you may develop eye metastases to orbital and ocular regions. Therefore you should be aware of changes and pain in the eye area. Never underestimate such things considering normal.

In summary, as hidden signs of metastatic breast cancer, patients may experience eye problems without knowing.

  • Bone pain

Bones are the ideal sites for breast cancer metastases. Most women with metastatic breast cancer may feel bone pain because of bone metastasis.

This has a significant negative impact on the quality of life of patients.

Figure no.01: most common types of cancers cause brain metastasis at stage 4.

You may have felt some specific symptoms as signs of metastatic breast cancer.

  • Pain
  • Bone fractures
  • Compression of spinal cord

In addition, increased calcium levels of the blood also persist.

What happens when breast cancer metastases to bones?

Bone metastasis is obvious in breast cancer. When breast cancer spreads to bones they produce certain chemicals. Those chemicals damage bone tissues. They attack the bone generating and destroying processes. Ultimately bone degrading cells of osteoblasts cause bone cell damage at increased speed. Osteoclasts are overactivated and lead to more bone breakdown.

This causes,

  • Changes in bone structure
  • Inflammation in bones and joints

When bone metastasis occurs several signs of metastatic breast cancer appear.

  • Back pain
  • Weakness of legs or arms
  • Leakage of urine unconsciously (urinary incontinence)
  • Bowel disorders
  • Neck pain
  • Suddenly occur severe pain you might unable to move your arms or legs
  • Numbness of certain areas of the body

In addition to the increased calcium levels in the blood,

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Constipation
  • Confusion may happen.

What do you feel during bone pains in breast cancer metastasis?

In bone metastasis, breast cancer spreads not only to the bones of arms and legs but also to the ribs, pelvis, and spine.

In the early stages, you may feel slight pain up and low. With the time cancer spreads, you can feel sharp and constant pain.

Sometimes it causes dull, mild bone ache but sometimes it worsens causing sharp pain and persists for a long time. This can also come up with edema or swellings in those areas.

Bone pains can appear at different times of the day differently. If you feel intense pain that cannot be endured, even probably a bone fracture.

Those signs of metastatic breast cancer are often misclassified with other disorders such as arthritis. Therefore careful attention to yourself is essential, most importantly if you have risk factors for breast cancer.

9.Headache and dizziness

Do you believe that headache might be a sign of metastatic breast cancer?

Well, if breast cancer has spread to the central nervous system you may find several problems. However, you may easily misinterpret those signs as trying to match with common other diseases.

Women with metastatic breast cancer, usually aggressive subtypes can have headaches, dizziness, memory problems, seizures, and mood changes. This is because cancer has spread to the brain tissues.

About 10%-15% of women with stage IV breast cancer show these types of symptoms. Among the confounding signs of metastatic breast cancer, headache is a common sign. However, you might think and ignore a simple headache by just considering it as a normal thing.

How can you feel breast cancer-related headaches?

Although every cancer patient’s symptoms are unique, headache is a common sign among them. Unlike normal headaches, cancer-associated headaches persist. You might have a feeling like something pressures your brain. It can make you uncomfortable.

Breast cancer-related headaches are worse in the morning or at night. Most often patients describe this pain as a dull but pressure-type headache. In contrast, some explain it as a sharp, stabbing pain.

What about dizziness?

If you feel unstable when walking or standing, feeling fainting, woofing you are having dizziness. Brain tumours of the metastatic breast cancer cause this problem.

10.Loss of appetite

The metastasis of breast cancer itself or after treatments often you lose your appetite. Most of the women feel depression, nausea, anxiety after knowing that they have breast cancer. That is as natural as human beings. However, this depressed state can make a lot of unwanted changes within yourself. Your sense of smell and taste also reduces.

Overall patients can experience these signs of metastatic breast cancer but if they do not know they have cancer they may ignore the signs. A lot of women in today’s world are highly busy with their daily tasks. They do jobs and household work so they may not have enough time to take care of themselves. This is not good.

Women who have risk factors especially genetic factors or family history with breast cancer essentially should be aware of such signs.

What can you do to increase appetite?

If you do not eat well while having breast cancer and its treatments, you might be easily weak. In other words, breast cancer patients should maintain good body weight to overcome the side effects of anti-cancer treatments. In addition, to improve the effectiveness of cancer therapies, having a proper diet is vital.

But the problem is most cancer patients cannot eat properly. This causes drastic weight loss and speeds up the weakness process and complications.

Here are some tips to have a healthy meal

  • Choose food wisely which can increase your appetite.
  • Eat-in small portions
  • Drink a sufficient amount of water
  • Eat your favorite foods often but prepare them healthy and suitable for your condition.
  • Have healthy snacks
  • Make homemade smoothies
  • Add fresh vegetables and fruits. But be careful when selecting fruits because some fruits interfere with cancer medications. Ask your doctor or dietician for a food plan for you.
  • Take healthy nuts.
  • Have high-calorie foods but do not exceed the limits.

Always ask your doctor for support and information on food suitable for your condition.

Everything considered you can identify these important signs of metastatic breast cancer if you

pay much attention to your body and lifestyle.

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