The Role of the Immune System in Cell Growth and Metastasis

Bernard Fisher — a giant in breast cancer treatment research — recognized the possibility of breast cancer being a systemic disease even if seemingly localized to the breast. He promoted the idea of removing the axillary lymph nodes as a diagnostic or staging procedure rather than purely a treatment procedure. Fisher's research led to how people today look at breast cancer treatment and the complexity of breast cancer growth patterns and predictors of whether the cancer will spread.

Breast cancer can spread to lungs, liver, bones, and other parts of the body. Diagnosis tests are done to help assess the likelihood that the cancer is metastatic, meaning it will likely spread. Examination of lymph nodes will often be done, and in patients with more advanced cancer, such as those with multiple positive nodes or skin involvement, bone and CT scans may be done to look for metastatic disease.

If any of the tests are positive for metastasis in areas outside the breast and axillary nodes, then the physician will often recommend systemic chemotherapy or hormonal therapy such as tamoxifen.

Fact

Metastasis is the migration of cancer cells to other organs. Those organs will become damaged if the cancer is not effectively treated.

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