Breast cancer is described as having four stages. By the time a patient reaches Stage IV, the cancer has spread to other parts of the body. Doctors use imaging technology such as an ultrasound to evaluate the stage of a cancer. Treatment attempts are usually most aggressive in the first three stages. Treatment options in Stage IV are very limited.
By the time breast cancer reaches Stage IV, the physical symptoms may be noticeable even to the naked eye. Lumps may appear on or around the breast or under the armpit. There may also be hard patches of skin on the breast that shine when light is on them.
In the earlier stages of breast cancer, there may be a white discharge coming from the nipple of the affected breast. This discharge may have the consistency of cottage cheese. In Stage IV breast cancer, this discharge may take on a pinkish color because it is now mixing with blood. The pinkish color discharge is possible at any stage but is most common in Stage IV.
Throughout the first three stages of breast cancer, it is very possible that the affected breast was swelling but it may not have been noticeable. By the time the condition reaches Stage IV, the swelling becomes noticeable. Over time, the swelling may increase at a more rapid pace.
Stage IV breast cancer is the point at which the cancer has spread to other parts of the body. The areas commonly affected first are the lungs and the liver. When the cancer spreads to these areas, it may become difficult to breathe, especially after physical activity. Jaundice, which turns the skin and the whites of the eyes a yellowish color, can be a symptom of cancer's impact on the liver.
For Stage IV breast cancer, a few options for treatment are available. The doctor may suggest chemotherapy medication along with radiation treatment to try to put this advanced form of cancer into remission. The doctor may also offer what is referred to as supportive care. Supportive care involves treating the pain and discomfort symptoms and offering the highest quality of life possible. With supportive care, there is no attempt to treat the cancer because it has already passed the point of being treatable.