Symptom management and quality of life in metastatic breast cancer

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Published: 20 Dec 2013
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Dr Polly Niravath - Baylor College of Medicine, Houston, Texas

Dr Niravath talks to ecancertv at SABCS about symptom management and quality of life in metastatic breast cancer

Approximately 40,000 women in the US die each year of metastatic breast cancer. Because the disease is incurable at this stage, effective symptom management and preservation of quality of life are paramount for these patients. For those with brain metastases, consideration of cognition, quality of life, and overall survival are extremely important because some subsets of patients with breast cancer metastases to the brain may now enjoy prolonged survival of almost 2 years.

For solitary brain metastasis, surgical resection followed by whole brain radiotherapy is known to prolong survival, though the addition of whole brain radiotherapy is associated with significant cognitive impairment and decreased quality of life without clear improvement in overall survival. Stereotactic radiosurgery (SRS) shows promise as a therapeutic option for patients with asymptomatic, smaller brain lesions. SRS, as compared to open surgery, results in improved quality of life. Bone metastasis is another common management dilemma for breast cancer patients.

Commonly used bone agents, such as bisphosphonates and RANK ligand inhibitors, are known to decrease bone pain and increase quality of life, as well as reduce skeletal-related events. However, safe and optimal duration of bisphosphonates or RANK ligand inhibitors remains unclear in the metastatic breast cancer population. Finally, we will discuss quality measures for delivering end of life care, trends in the country, and methods for improving end of life care with goals of earlier hospice referrals and less treatments at end of life which lead to hospitalizations or ICU stays.