What can symptoms can we expect during my mother-in-law's hormone therapy for breast cancer?

1 answer | Last updated: Sep 22, 2016
Sradams asked...

my mother in law has stage 4 breast cancer. she has refused chemotherapy, but was a candidate for the hormone therapy. the cancer has spread to her bones. (they found the cancer when she broke her hip.) getting any information from her doctors has been a struggle. they don't want to tell us the ugly truth. but we really need to know what we're dealing with here. what can we expect as far as symptoms go, besides pain? (she's also diabetic, which complicates things.) they've found more tumors at the base of her spine and her upper back, on the bone, but thus far her internal organs seem to be fine. thanks for your help.

Expert Answers

Andrew Putnam, M.D. is a Palliative Care physician at Smilow Cancer Center at Yale New Haven Hospital and Yale University.

It is challenging to predict future symptoms in many cancers including breast cancer. The symptoms depend on where the cancer spreads to and how rapidly it grows in different places; shortness of breath if in the lungs, swelling in the abdomen and legs if in the liver etc.

Given that your mother-in-law has no disease in her internal organs, the most likely symptom continues to be pain at the sites of the cancer. There could be other fractures, including in the bones of the spine. Radiation can often help in specific places. Steroids can help with the pain but could worsen her diabetes.

It is possible that the cancer could press on the nerves of the spinal cord and cause pain but also interfere with whatever those nerves control. However it is likely that pain will be the most common symptom unless the cancer spreads to some internal organ.