Metastatic Breast Cancer: Understanding Current Management Options

Kerry McGinn

Jacqueline Moore

neoplasm metastasis, breast neoplasms, antineoplastic agents, drug toxicity, hormone therapy, antibodies, monoclonal

Purpose/Objectives: To review the standard treatment options for metastatic breast cancer, present recently approved chemotherapeutic and hormonal approaches, and describe novel biologic therapies, particularly the use of monoclonal antibodies.

Data Sources: Published articles, abstracts, and conference proceedings.

Data Synthesis: Standard treatment options available to women with metastatic breast cancer include surgery, radiation therapy, hormonal therapy, chemotherapy, and palliative approaches. New chemotherapeutic approaches for the management of metastatic breast cancer include the recently approved agents paclitaxel, docetaxel, and capecitabine. New hormonal agents such as toremifene, letrozole, and exemestane also have been approved. Finally, an agent from a new class of agents—biologic response modifiers (BRMs)—now is available. Trastuzumab, a monoclonal antibody (one class of BRMs), is a new and promising approach available to a subpopulation of women with metastatic breast cancer.

Conclusion: Although standard treatment options for the management of metastatic breast cancer may prolong survival for some, they have not resulted in a cure for the majority of women. Recent advances in the understanding of cancer cellular biology have led to newer approaches such as monoclonal antibodies and other BRMs that may offer hope of extended survival and improved quality of life for certain women. This field is growing quickly, and new targets for breast cancer therapy are being studied.

Implications for Nursing Practice: Nurses who become familiar with newer treatment options available for the management of metastatic breast cancer, including new chemotherapeutic and hormonal approaches and monoclonal antibody therapy, are better able to provide information and support for their patients. Clinicians must understand the criteria for patient selection for newer agents, particularly trastuzumab. In addition, recognizing adverse effects and knowing the management strategies for treatment-related toxicities help to ensure positive patient outcomes.

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