Back pain is a prevalent affliction, not necessarily limited to any specific age group, gender, or ethnicity. One of the most common factors causing back pain can be the wrong posture during long hours of sedentary work. During pregnancy, women are known to complain about back pain. People who continually lift heavy weights are also prone to back pain.
But, what if back pain can also be an indication of something more serious? Though not commonly listed as a symptom, back pain may be caused by underlying cancer. This is especially so in the case of metastatic cancer, where the cancer has spread from the place of origin to other parts of the body.1
Back Pain And Breast Cancer
The more commonly known symptoms of breast cancer are a lump in the breast and any change in the skin of the breast or nipple. Specifically, back pain occurs in metastatic breast cancer when the tumor is affecting the spine as a result of the cancer spreading. Surprisingly, the skeleton is the most common organ affected by the metastasized cancer.
The tumors that have a propensity to spread to the bone are those arising from the breast, thyroid, lung, prostate, and kidney. In all this, it is the breast cancer that is the most prevalent one and the reason for the highest morbidity. About 80 percent of the cases of metastatic bone disease incidence are accounted for by breast and prostate cancer.
However, there is hope for patients for whom the cancer is detected when metastatic. The prognosis for survival is dependent on a lot of factors like age, pre or post menopause status and whether bone disease existed during the initial presentation or not.2
Another study suggests that around 5 percent to 10 percent of the breast cancers that are diagnosed have already metastasized. Today there is access to new detection techniques like MRI, PET-scan, and also a PET–CT. for early detection and treatment of metastatic breast cancer.
How Do We Treat It?
The typical treatments for cancer include chemotherapy, radiation, surgery if required and depending on the organ affected, at times even transplants including bone marrow transplants. The treatment options for metastatic breast cancer may vary from person to person depending on nature of the tumor, the disease stage, person’s general health conditions and so on.3
Another study on the same subject concludes saying that a single treatment with intensive combination alkylating agents with bone marrow support can help improve the complete response among patients than the conventional chemotherapy.4
One study suggests that complete removal of the tumor is the recommended option of treatment for recurrent ones, perhaps by conducting a mastectomy. If the patients have not been treated with radiation therapy earlier, then the chest wall and regional lymph node areas should be treated with full-dose radiotherapy.
Depending on the patient, the area, the previous course of treatment, the nature and grade of the disease, the side effects, and responses, the oncologists will arrive at the best possible treatment option, which can boost the patient’s chances of survival.5
|↑1||Deyo, Richard A., and Andrew K. Diehl. “Cancer as a cause of back pain.” Journal of general internal medicine 3, no. 3 (1988): 230-238.|
|↑2||Coleman, Robert E. “Skeletal complications of malignancy.” Cancer 80, no. S8 (1997): 1588-1594.|
|↑3||Bezwoda, W. R., L. Seymour, and R. D. Dansey. “High-dose chemotherapy with hematopoietic rescue as primary treatment for metastatic breast cancer: a randomized trial.” Journal of Clinical Oncology 13, no. 10 (1995): 2483-2489.|
|↑4||Peters, William P., E. J. Shpall, R. B. Jones, G. A. Olsen, R. C. Bast, J. P. Gockerman, and J. O. Moore. “High-dose combination alkylating agents with bone marrow support as initial treatment for metastatic breast cancer.” Journal of Clinical Oncology 6, no. 9 (1988): 1368-1376.|
|↑5||Cardoso, F., N. Harbeck, L. Fallowfield, S. Kyriakides, E. Senkus, and ESMO Guidelines Working Group. “Locally recurrent or metastatic breast cancer: ESMO Clinical Practice Guidelines for diagnosis, treatment, and follow-up.” Annals of Oncology 23, no. suppl_7 (2012): vii11-vii19.|