Breast Cancer Metastasis to the Spine

Breast cancer is a type of cancer that forms in the cells of the breasts and can present as a lump in the breast region, a change in shape or texture of the breast, inverted nipple or as an abnormal discharge from the breast. There are more than one million new cases of breast cancer in India every year with its victims being predominantly women.

Treatment of breast cancer depends on its progress stage and can involve surgery for partial or full removal of the breast tissues, hormone therapy, chemotherapy and radiation. When left undetected and untreated, breast cancer can metastasize or spread beyond the breast tissues. Some of the common locations that breast cancer metastasizes to, include the lungs, liver, brain, bones and lymph nodes.

Of these, the bones are more often affected; over 70% of stage IV breast cancer metastases occur in the bones and fractures are the first sign of a reoccurrence. The bones most commonly affected include the spine, ribs, pelvis (hips) and the long bones (arms and legs). A sudden onset of severe pain in the affected bone is usually the commonest symptom of a metastasized cancer. Oft times, it’s difficult to differentiate the pain of cancer from that of arthritis or other strains; and if pain gets worse upon lying down, then it’s definitely a cause for concern.

If there is associated weakness in an area of the body or problems with bowel movements or passing urine, then this could indicate a spinal cord compression. A fractured vertebra that is pressing on nearby nerves in the spinal cord could also affect these bodily functions. Interestingly, these metastases can present in different bone locations at the same time such as occurring in the spine and pelvis concurrently.

To diagnose bone metastases, your doctor may request for imaging tests such as x-rays, CT scan, MRI, PET scan or bone scan. These bone metastases can create complications and different types of symptoms. The pain caused by metastases can be very severe and difficult to manage. Aside from pain medications, nerve blocks may also be administered. Breast cancer metastases in the spine can also lead to weakening and fractures of the vertebral bones. Vertebroplasty involves injecting cementing material to repair these vertebral fractures and this can also reduce the pain, weakness or numbness caused by spinal compression.

The Sita Bhateja Specialty Hospital in Bangalore has a highly-specialized team involved in spine care and is backed up a by state-of-the-art operating theatre equipped with the latest technology. You couldn’t go wrong by finding out more about them here:

Leave a reply