Olivia Newton-John died at age 73 on Monday. She had been open about her experience with breast cancer.
She first found a lump in her breast in 1992, and went into remission following treatment. Her breast cancer returned in her shoulder in 2013 and her back in 2017.
Metastatic breast cancer is harder to treat than less advanced breast cancers because it has spread to other parts of the body.
"Olivia has been a symbol of triumphs and hope for over 30 years sharing her journey with breast cancer," Easterling wrote.
The actress and "Grease" legend was diagnosed with breast cancer three times in her life, often speaking publicly about her experience and treatments.
Newton-John was first diagnosed with breast cancer in 1992, when she found a lump in her right breast.
It was in the early stages, she said, and she immediately started treatment, including chemotherapy, a partial mastectomy, and a breast reduction.
After nine months, she was declared cancer-free.
Breast cancer that spreads is more difficult to treat
In 2013, Newton-John's breast cancer returned, spreading into her shoulder. She didn't share that second diagnosis until she publicly shared her third diagnosis in 2017.
"I thought, 'It's my life,' and I just decided to keep it to myself," Newton-John said.
In May 2017, Newton-John revealed that her breast cancer had spread once more, resulting in a tumor in her lower back.
After her 2017 diagnosis, Newton-John said she had undergone radiation, adopted a healthier diet, and used "cannabis oil" as part of ongoing treatment for the tumor.
In January 2020, Newton-John said the cancer had spread to her bones, but she wouldn't allow her prognosis to hinder her life. A year later, in February 2021, she attended her daughter's wedding.
"I'm winning over it well and that's how I see it. I don't think about it a lot, to be honest. Denial is a really good thing and I'm getting stronger and better all the time," Newton-John told G'Day USA.
Breast cancer that recurs and spreads is called metastatic breast cancer, and it is difficult to treat. According to the American Cancer Society (ACS), people with stage 4 cancer have a 22% chance of surviving five years after their diagnosis.
With metastatic cancers, cancer cells can grow beyond the initial tumor site, move through the walls of nearby lymph nodes or blood vessels, and then travel through the lymphatic system and bloodstream to other parts of the body, according to the National Cancer Institute. It can happen with many different types of cancer, including breast cancer.
Treatment options may shrink tumors and improve symptoms
The ACS explains that current treatment options are "very unlikely to cure metastatic breast cancer," but there are some therapies that can shrink tumors, slow their growth, and improve symptoms, helping patients live longer.
Typically, these cancers are treated with systemic, or full-body, approaches, including chemotherapy, hormone therapy (since some breast cancers interact with hormones), and drugs that specifically target the growth and spread of cancer cells, according to the ACS.
Caroline Praderio contributed reporting.
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