What to Do After You're Diagnosed With MBC

A look at diagnostic tests, reasons you may want to get a second opinion and why you need copies of your test results.

Medically reviewed in February 2022

Metastatic breast cancer, also called MBC, is cancer that began in the breast, but has spread to another part of the body and formed other malignant growths. The most common areas for breast cancer to spread to are the lungs, liver, bone and brain. Most patients who are diagnosed with MBC have been diagnosed with and treated for non-metastatic breast cancer in the past, but some patients are diagnosed with MBC without a previous diagnosis of breast cancer.

If you or a loved one has recently been diagnosed with MBC, you are wondering what happens next. The following is an overview of the steps to take when working with your healthcare provider after an MBC diagnosis.

Follow up with diagnostic tests
The initial diagnosis of MBC is typically followed by a number of additional tests that may include biopsies of the primary and secondary tumors, blood work and imaging tests such as MRIs, PET scans, X-rays and others.

While testing will vary from patient to patient, the diagnostic tests you receive should answer these questions:

  • What areas has the cancer spread to?
  • What are the size of the tumors?
  • What is the grade of the cancer cells? (Grading determines how much the cancer cells have mutated, which is often an indicator of how malignant the tumors are and how quickly the cancer will spread).
  • How aggressively is the cancer growing and spreading?
  • What effect are hormones (estrogen/progesterone) and growth factors (human epidermal growth factor receptors, or HER2) having on tumor growth?

The aim of diagnostic tests is to give you and your healthcare providers a clear and detailed look at the cancer, which will help you determine the best course for treatment. Because each patient and each case of MBC is somewhat unique, treatment for MBC is individualized.

Get copies of your test results
You will want to get copies of your test results, pathology reports and other documents regarding your diagnosis, treatment and medical history. These will make the process much easier if you decide to see a different healthcare provider in the future.

Get a second opinion
You may want to seek a second opinion for your diagnosis. A second opinion is when a patient sees a different healthcare provider to be examined and evaluated. This is sometimes done because a patient is unsatisfied with a treatment or the treatment recommended by their current healthcare provider, but there are a variety of reasons to seek a second opinion when diagnosed with MBC:

  • You may want to see a specialist who is experienced in treating similar cases of MBC.
  • You may be looking for a new perspective on the diagnosis and the treatment possibilities.
  • You may want to gain access to a clinical trial for a new type of treatment.

Since treatment for MBC will be an ongoing process, it is very important that you work with healthcare providers whom you trust and who understand your needs as a patient.

Choose and start a treatment
Treatment options will depend on the type, location, medical history and a number of other factors. Deciding on a treatment plan will be a decision that you make with the guidance of your healthcare providers, and as mentioned above, treatment is tailored to meet your individual needs. While there is currently no cure for MBC, there are numerous treatment options available that work to halt the progress of cancer, minimize symptoms, improve quality of life and prolong life. It’s estimated that there are over 150,000 people in the United States living with MBC. Published data shows that survival rates are improving.

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