The prognosis of patients with breast cancer who develop brain metastasis has substantially improved over the past 20 years, but can vary widely depending upon your breast cancer subtype and your age.
Historically, survival of patients with breast cancer brain metastasis was very poor, ranging from 3-6 months. However, with the development of new treatments that effectively control cancer outside of the brain, patients with BCBM are living longer. The overall survival for breast cancer patients with brain metastasis (all types combined) is now closer to just over 2 years, with a life expectancy of 3 years for those with HER2+ tumors. These statistics do not reflect the results of the many clinical trials that are still ongoing. Therefore overall survival in patients with breast cancer brain metastasis may improve over time.
It is important to remember that each patient is unique, and that statistics cannot possibly account for all the variations that exist in a person and their cancer. There are some patients who far exceed the averages provided above. We share the stories of several BCBM patients who have lived well beyond what the statistics show.
Studies have also shown that specialized care known as palliative or supportive care, which addresses the symptoms and stress of an advanced disease, can improve quality of life. In some cases, it can even extend survival. For patients with brain metastasis, palliative radiation therapy is often prescribed to control tumors or relieve symptoms such as headaches.
Palliative care is provided by a special team of doctors, nurses, social workers, and other specialists who work together to provide an extra layer of support beyond simply keeping the patient alive. Palliative care specialists can help patients get relief from symptoms that include:
- Sleep disturbance
- Other symptoms that affect quality of life
Specialists can also assist with psychosocial support by recommending a licensed therapist or offering resources for relaxation techniques including yoga, meditation, music therapy, art therapy, and others. Spiritual support may also be offered to patients who are seeking to be connected with hospital chaplains or local religious and spiritual leaders to help with loss of faith or hope. Lastly, palliative care specialists can assist with explaining complicated medical information, which can reduce confusion or concern around making important treatment decisions.
Ask your treating physician about being connected to a palliative care team