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The Voice of People With Breast Cancer

March 8, 2014: Living with metastatic breast cancer

Understanding metastatic breast cancer, its impact, and how access to new therapies is critical to Canadians.

By: Cathy Ammendolea, CBCN Board Chair
Media Planet | National Post

Metastatic breast cancer refers to the spread of cancer from the breast to different parts of the body, most commonly the bones, liver, lungs and brain. Of the 23,800 women diagnosed with breast cancer in Canada each year, 10 percent will have metastatic disease at the time of diagnosis, and approximately 30 percent of women diagnosed with earlier stages of breast cancer will go on to develop metastatic breast cancer. Metastatic breast cancer remains one of the biggest challenges affecting the breast cancer community.

Access to treatments

While there is no cure for metastatic breast cancer, there are treatment options that focus on slowing the progression of the disease, and managing symptoms. Innovative research continues to provide Canadians living with metastatic breast cancer with new treatment options,. In a national survey by the Canadian Breast Cancer Network (CBCN), in partnership with Rethink Breast Cancer, Canadians living with metastatic breast cancer and their caregivers shared the importance of being able to access new treatments; one respondent says “access to new treatment options would give me the liberty and dignity of choosing how I live with the disease”. Dr. Verma, medical oncologist at the Sunnybrook Odette Cancer Centre and Rethink Breast Cancer board member –‘We need to work on supporting our patients with metastatic breast cancer by providing them with much needed psychosocial and educational support, timely access to effective therapies, and opportunity to participate in clinical trials to help improve outcomes of our patients with this disease.


Despite the significant number of Canadians living with metastatic breast cancer, the disease remains hidden and the people affected remain isolated. Awareness and understanding are difficult to generate. In fact, a recent global study on advanced breast cancer, by Novartis Oncology, found that 84 percent of Canadian respondents with metastatic disease felt that no one understood what they were going through and 55 percent said that the information available on breast cancer did not address their needs.

Supporting Canadians living with metastatic breast cancer

I understand first-hand the impact of a breast cancer diagnosis, and in my role as the chair of the board at CBCN I have met many women living with metastatic breast cancer. We need to acknowledge that while living with an incurable form of cancer, these women continue to play an active role in our society as mothers, sisters, spouses, daughters, friends, and colleagues. We must break the silence around metastatic breast cancer; together we can address the unique needs of these Canadians and ensure the availability of support, information and timely access to treatments that help them continue to live longer with the best quality of life possible.