Breast Cancer Spread

How Breast Cancer Spread?
The primary
Tumor begins in the breast it self, but once it becomes invasive, it may progress beyond the breast to the regional lymph nodes or travel (metastasize) to other organ systems in the body and become systemic in nature. Lymph is the clear, protein-rich fluid that bathes the cells throughout the body. Lymph will work its way back to the bloodstream via small channels known as lymphatics. Along the way, the lymph is filtered through cellular stations known as nodes, thus they are called lymph nodes.

Nearly all organs in the body have a primary lymph node group filtering fluid that comes from that organ. In the breast, the primary lymph nodes are under the armpit, or axilla.

The Classically
The primary tumor begins in the breast and the first place to which it is likely to spread is the regional lymph nodes. Cancer, as it invades in its place of origin, may also work its way into blood vessels. If cancer gets into the blood vessels, the blood vessels provide yet another route for the cancer to spread to other organs of the body.

Breast cancer follows this classic progression though it often becomes systemic or widespread early in the course of the disease. By the time one can feel a lump in the breast it is often 0.4 inches, or one centimeter, in size and contains roughly a million cells. It is estimated that a tumor of this size may take one to five years to develop. During that time, the cancer may metastasize, or spread by lymphatics or blood to areas elsewhere in the body.

Breast Cancer Spread
When primary breast cancer spread, it may first go to the axillary nodes. If this occurs, regional metastasis exists. If it proceeds elsewhere either by lymphatic or blood-borne spread, the patient develops systemic metastasis that may involve a number of other organs in the body.

Favorite sites of systemic involvement for breast cancer are the lung, bones, liver, skin, and soft tissue. As it turns out, the presence of, and the actual number of, regional lymph nodes containing cancer remains the single best indicator of whether or not the cancer has become widely metastatic. Because tests to discover metastasis in other organs may not be sensitive enough to reveal minute deposits of cancer cells, the evaluation of the axilla for regional metasis becomes very important in making treatment decisions for this disease.

If breast cancer spread to other major organs of the body, its presence will compromise the function of those organs. Death is the result of extreme compromise of vital organ function.

If breast cancer is left untreated, or fails to respond to treatment, it will progress in a gradual fashion and may involve any of the following areas or cause any of the following complications:
  • Bones
  • Brain
  • High Calcium levels
  • Liver
  • Lungs
  • Lymph glands
  • Pericardial Effusion
  • Pleural cavity
  • Spinal Cord Compression