What Is Metastatic Breast Cancer? Answering Your Questions
Metastatic breast cancer is a type of cancer that has spread from the breast to other organs in the body. When cancer spreads, or metastasizes, it requires a different approach to treatment. Here are answers to some pressing questions about this advanced type of breast cancer.
What Is Metastatic Breast Cancer?
Also called stage IV breast cancer, this cancer has spread beyond the initial tumour site. The tumour cells have separated from the initial cancer, entered the bloodstream or lymphatic system, and begun to grow in another part of the body. Unlike recurrent breast cancer, metastatic breast cancer has travelled to a new location, rather than returning to or near the original site.
Where Does Breast Cancer Spread?
Cancer can spread to any part of the body, but the most common areas where breast cancer spreads are the chest wall, liver, lungs, bones, and brain. Metastatic breast cancer may be found during routine follow-up lab tests or imaging scans, or through symptoms.
Although the cancer is in a different location, it developed from breast cancer cells and is known as metastatic breast cancer.
What Are the Symptoms of Metastatic Breast Cancer?
Not everyone with stage IV breast cancer has symptoms. When symptoms do occur, they depend on where the cancer has spread to. Some symptoms can include:
- Weight loss
- Pain or swelling in the abdomen
- Shortness of breath
- A lump on the chest wall or breast
- Pain in bones.
How Is Metastatic Breast Cancer Treated?
This type of breast cancer cannot be cured, but with treatment, people can manage symptoms and may live years after the diagnosis. Your doctor will propose treatments based on where the cancer has spread, using approaches geared toward advanced breast cancer.
Systemic treatment — meaning chemotherapy, hormone therapy, or targeted therapy — is usually the first choice. Surgery may also be recommended.
Does an Early-Stage Breast Cancer Diagnosis Increase the Risk for Metastatic Breast Cancer?
Metastatic breast cancer is often diagnosed after an early-stage diagnosis. It can develop months or years after the first treatment.
Receiving a metastatic breast cancer diagnosis can be overwhelming. Treatments can go a long way toward managing symptoms and extending your life. Make sure that any treatment approach fits your values, desires, and lifestyle to balance side effects with benefits.
Early detection is important. If you don't have symptoms or a family history of breast cancer, we recommend monthly breast self- examinations, annual breast examinations by your doctor, and a mammogram every two years, beginning at age 50.