Prioritizing Quality of Life with Metastatic Breast Cancer

5 min read
Jun 21, 2023 9:00:00 AM

Metastatic breast cancer is also known as stage IV. It is an invasive form of breast cancer characterized by the spread of cancerous cells to other areas of the body. Metastasis occurs when breast cancer spreads to a different part of the body. This type of breast cancer typically tends to metastasize in the liver, bones, lungs, or brain ( 

As metastatic breast cancer is the most advanced breast cancer stage, quality of life is key. The term quality of life is defined as “your ability to do and enjoy the things in your life that mean the most to you while feeling as well as possible” (Canadian Cancer Society). 

Treatment plans play an essential role in maintaining an individual's quality of life. Treatment aims to reduce tumor size, slow down growth, alleviate symptoms, and enhance the individual's overall quality of life (Cancer.Org).  

Healthcare teams can help answer concerns and explain what treatment options are available to help maintain quality of life (Canadian Cancer Society). Systemic therapy is the primary method used to treat metastatic breast cancer (American Cancer Society). Types of systemic therapy include chemotherapy, hormone therapy, and immunotherapy.  

To read more about metastatic breast cancer and these cancer treatment types, check out this blog. 

If you have been diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer, having more knowledge about your diagnosis can help you manage uneasiness. It can also empower you to take an active role in your health journey, and prioritize your quality of life ( 

Women standing together

The Importance of Quality of Life 

A wide range of factors shape an individual's quality of life, including physical and mental health, personal relationships, socio-economic status, education, or physical surroundings (Teoli). Improving quality of life is beneficial for individuals living with metastatic breast cancer. This is because it is a main component of the care they receive (Komen). 

You may not be a candidate for certain treatment types or may decide to stop treatment if it’s substantially impacting your quality of life. In this case, reducing symptoms or other side effects and focusing on improving quality of life becomes the main care focus (Komen). 

Ways to Improve Quality of Life 

As previously mentioned, quality of life encompasses your overall well-being, including (Komen): 

  • Physical and emotional well-being 
  • Ability to perform daily roles 
  • Sexuality and intimacy 
  • Levels of pain and fatigue 
  • Financial concerns 

Each person can experience metastatic breast cancer differently. Although quality of life varies from person to person, here are some ways you and your caregivers can improve your quality of life: 

  • Manage pain: Pain may be caused by side effects of treatments or the cancer itself. It’s important to schedule an appointment with your healthcare team as soon as you feel pain, as it is easier to treat before it worsens. Your oncologist can refer you to palliative care and pain specialists to help you maintain the best quality of life possible (Komen). 
  • Manage fatigue: Treatments can cause fatigue and trouble sleeping. You can manage fatigue by planning daily tasks ahead of time, taking breaks, and sitting down to complete tasks when possible (e.g., showering) (Komen).  

Women holding hands

  • Create a community of support: Take care of your emotional well-being by speaking to friends, family, other cancer patients, or therapists. Joining a support group can be comforting as you are interacting with people who are going through the same situation. You can learn about symptom management strategies, wellness tips, and advocacy tips (Komen). 
  • Find a new hobby: Take up hobbies to help keep you engaged and take the focus off of your diagnosis. If you are able to stay active, try yoga, swimming, or other types of physical activity. You can stay socially active by volunteering and gardening. Activities that consume less energy include reading and knitting (National Cancer Institute). 
  • Focus on what you can control: Take an active role in your health care by finding resources, asking questions, attending appointments, and continuing to adjust your lifestyle as needed (National Cancer Institute). 

The Role Mental Health Plays in Quality of Life 

When it comes to improving your quality of life, your mental health has an important role to play. Focusing on the physical symptoms of metastatic breast cancer is only one part of the overall process (Canadian Breast Cancer Network). Your emotional and mental health is equally important to your overall health and quality of life (Healthline). Additionally, understanding the state of your mental health can aid in finding relevant support.  

A metastatic breast cancer diagnosis may impact an individual’s mental health differently and to varying degrees. Some factors that can influence your mental health after receiving a diagnosis may include previous mental health history, age, access to a support system and resources, and financial stability (Breast Cancer Org). Every individual living with metastatic breast cancer will have different states of mental health that are unique to them, their beliefs, and their circumstances. 

Woman journaling

Some ways to focus on your mental health to improve your quality of life include (Healthline):

  • Creating a support system with friends and family
  • Joining a support group 
  • Doing meditation or journaling 
  • Talking to a professional 

Your mental health can impact foundational aspects of your life, including your outlook, values, and motivation, which can then, in turn, impact your quality of life (American Psychological Association). It’s important to remember that there is no right or wrong way to come to terms with a diagnosis of metastatic breast cancer. How you approach your health journey is up to you. 

The Alberta Metastatic Breast Cancer (mBC) Support Platform 

The Alberta Metastatic Breast Cancer (mBC) Support Platform empowers individuals living with mBC and their caregivers to manage their health. They can track medications and symptoms, prepare for appointments, and view their whole health journey. 

The Support Platform was co-created by Dr. Nancy Nixon and mBC patients to support individuals living with mBC in Alberta. Dr. Nixon is a medical oncologist at Tom Baker Cancer Centre and the Southern Alberta Tumour Team Lead. Her work focuses on providing systemic therapies for cancer patients, and she is involved in clinical, translational, and health services research. 

Person holding the Alberta mBC Support Platform

The Support Platform uses an Alberta-based health platform, the Zamplo App, to support the use of features that empower individuals with mBC to: 

  • Track medications, supplements, symptoms, activities, and health-related data  
  • Access credible and relevant resources  
  • Prepare for appointments  
  • Connect with others living with mBC 
  • Search for mBC clinical trials 

Learn more about the Alberta mBC Support Platform and join for free today. 

Get Started


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