Stage 4 cancer or metastasis cancer is the most advance stage of cancer. In this stage, cancer cells metastasize to other body parts away from the original tumor site. This stage may be detected years after the initial cancer diagnosis and after primary cancer has been treated or removed. The prognosis of stage 4 cancer is not always good. However, many people can live for years after diagnosis. As it is the most advanced stage; it needs the most aggressive treatment. Terminal cancer means cancer that is not treatable and ultimately leads to death. Stage 4 cancer can sometime be terminal cancer. Some experts may refer to this stage as an end-stage of cancer. If a doctor confirms that cancer is terminal, this usually means that the cancer is at the advanced stage and the treatment options focus on controlling rather than curing cancer.
This article will define the stage 4 cancer and how it is diagnosed and cured. It will help you learn more about treatment and possible stage 4 cancer outcomes.
Even though cancer is metastasized to the other part of the body in stage 4 cancer, it is still described by its original location. For example, if breast cancer cells reach the brain, it is still considered breast cancer, not brain cancer. Many stage 4 cancers have various subcategories, such as stage 4A or stage 4B, often determined by how cancer has metastasized to other body parts. Likewise, stage 4 cancers that are adenocarcinomas are often mentioned as metastatic adenocarcinomas.
Survival rates for common cancers in stage IV
Survival rates mean the likelihood of living for a certain period, such as five years after a doctor diagnoses cancer. If the doctor says that the five-year survival rate for people with breast cancer spread to distant body areas is 28%, it reflects that 28% of people survive for this period. Survival rates may vary based on the type of cancer. The five-year survival rate for mesothelioma spread to other body parts is 7%. This rate is 3% for distant pancreatic cancer.
However, it is worth noting that these rates are obtained from past data; they may not reflect the most recent advances in treatment. Also, a wide range of factors influences each person’s life expectancy.
Cancer’s spread will often begin in the same region where the original cells were found. For example, breast cancer may spread to lymph nodes under the arm. Common sites of cancer metastasis include:
Lung cancer: This is located in adrenal glands, bones, brain, liver, and the other lung.
Breast cancer: It is found in bones, brain, liver, and lungs.
Prostate cancer: It is located in the adrenal glands, bone, liver, and lungs.
Colorectal cancer: It is found in the liver, lungs, and peritoneum (lining of the abdomen).
Melanoma: It is located in bones, brain, liver, lung, skin, and muscle.
Treatment for stage 4 cancer
Treatment for stage IV cancer depends on the location of the tumor and the organs involved. If the cancer cells spread from the site where it was first diagnosed, it becomes difficult to treat. Patients diagnosed with stage 4 or metastatic cancer may not survive long without treatment.
Options to treat stage 4 cancer may involve chemotherapy, radiation therapy, hormone therapy, surgery, immunotherapy, targeted therapy or combining these modalities. The purpose of treatment is to prolong survival and improve quality of life. An oncologist will treat cancer depending on its type, where it has spread, and other factors.
Chemotherapy is given to a cancer patient to kill a small number of cancer cells, it is usually less effective in eradicating a larger number of tumor cells present in widespread metastases. If the cancer has spread to only a few small areas, surgeons may be able to remove it to prolong the patient’s survival. In most cases, treatment of stage IV cancer is aimed at prolonging patients’ survival and improving their quality of life.
Radiation therapy is given at high doses to kill cancer cells or slow their growth by damaging the DNA of the cells. When the DNA of a cancer cell is damaged beyond repair, it stops dividing and dies. Dead damaged cells are broken down and rejected by the body.
Radiation therapy does not kill cancer cells directly. It takes days or weeks of treatment after that DNA is damaged, leading to cancer cells’ death. Cancer cells continue to die for weeks or months after radiation therapy gets over. Radiation therapy is used to treat cancer and ease cancer symptoms. When used to treat cancer, radiation therapy can cure cancer, prevent it from returning, or stop or slow its growth.
Hormone therapy is a type of cancer treatment. It slows or stops the growth of tumor that uses hormones to grow. This therapy is also called hormonal therapy, hormone treatment, or endocrine therapy. Hormone therapy reduces the chance of cancer cells returning. This therapy also stops or slows cancer growth. It eases cancer symptoms. Hormone therapy is also used to reduce or prevent symptoms in men who have prostate cancer and cannot have surgery or radiation therapy.
Surgery generally is not used to treat stage 4 cancer, as in this stage, cancer cells spread in different parts of the body. However, if the cancer cells are scattered in a small area and the number of cancer cells is less, they can be removed with surgery. But usually, they can be removed along with the primary tumor. Surgery may relieve symptoms and help prevent cancer from spreading even more.
Targeted therapy is a cancer treatment that targets proteins that control cancer cells’ growth, division, and spread. It is the foundation of precision medicine. As researchers learn more about the DNA changes and proteins that drive cancer, they can better design treatments that target these proteins. Most targeted therapies are either small-molecule drugs or monoclonal antibodies. Small-molecule drugs are small enough to enter cells quickly, so they are used for targets inside cells. Most types of targeted therapy help treat cancer by interfering with specific proteins that help tumors grow and spread throughout the body.
This treatment targets drugs that use our immune system, including blood proteins, namely antibodies, to attack cancer cells. Immunotherapy drugs are used for different types of cancer, including bladder, breast, colon and rectum, kidney, liver, lung, and blood (leukemia, lymphoma, and multiple myeloma) prognosis.
Survival Rates for stage 4 cancer
One aspect of the prognosis for advanced cancer is called relative survival rate. This refers to the percentage of people with a particular diagnosis who are likely to live a specific amount of time.
The rates for advanced cancers are based on statistics published in the National Cancer Institute’s Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results (SEER) Program database.7
SEER does not use TNM to classify cancers. Instead, it uses three stages—localized, regional, and distant—with “distant” generally meaning the same thing as stage 4.
It refers to cancer that has spread beyond the original site, or nearby tissue or lymph nodes.
For most types of cancer, SEER uses five-year survival rates.
Survival for stage IV cancer
Cancer research and technology have advanced a lot in the last two decades. It has shown that there is hope for the future. Each year, new data emerges from a scope of technology that is ever-expanding and helping to provide patients with a new lease on life. However, like any further information, it’s essential to evaluate it judiciously and be realistic about what is possible. It is also significant to remember that there is still life after a cancer diagnosis, even in stage IV.