What is metastatic breast cancer?

When breast cancer spreads into other parts of your body, it's called metastatic breast cancer. Another name for metastatic breast cancer is advanced breast cancer.

Advanced breast cancer cells look a lot like breast cancer cells. That's how the doctor knows the cancer traveled from your breast and is advanced breast cancer, not a second primary cancer. Second primary cancers happen but are rare. Breast cancer can spread into any part of your body. Usually, if it advances, it goes into your bones, liver, lung or brain.

Cancer treatments try to kill all the cancer in your body. Sometimes treatments are successful but don't kill all of the cancer. Cancer cells can travel through your blood or lymphatic system. Your lymphatic system is part of your immune system, which helps your body fight diseases and infections. Breast cancer can travel to a new part of your body and recur months or years after you completed treatment the first time.

Breast Cancer Recurrent Breast Cancer

Risk factors for metastatic breast cancer

Anyone who has or has had breast cancer can get metastatic breast cancer. Whether breast cancer advances depends on what type of breast cancer it is, how fast or slow the cancer grows, how advanced the cancer was when the doctor first discovered it and other factors.

Symptoms of metastatic breast cancer

Signs that breast cancer has advanced depend on where it has spread to inside your body. Signs of cancer in your bones include:

  • Swelling
  • Broken bones
  • Pain that's severe and gets worse

Signs of cancer in your brain include:

  • Seizures
  • Problems seeing
  • Feeling nauseated or throwing up
  • Headaches that are severe and get worse

Signs of cancer in your liver include:

  • Skin rashes
  • Yellow skin
  • Low appetite
  • Stomach pain
  • Very itchy skin

Signs of cancer in your lungs include:

  • Difficulty breathing
  • Pain in your chest area
  • A cough that doesn't go away

Diagnosis of metastatic breast cancer

Metastatic breast cancer can show up with or without symptoms. Doctors can do tests to find out if the breast cancer has spread in your body. These tests include:

  • Biopsy
  • Bone scan
  • Blood tests
  • Genetic testing
  • X-rays and CT, MRI and PET scans

Treatments for metastatic breast cancer

Cancer that has spread from one part of your body to another part or parts is more difficult to treat than cancer that is isolated. For that reason, metastatic breast cancer usually isn't curable. Still, treatment options are available. The treatment you and your doctor choose depends on many factors. The location of the cancer spread, symptoms, previous treatments for breast cancer and your current health.

Some cancers respond to certain hormones. This can also determine your treatment options. The goals of treatment for advanced cancer are to slow the cancer's growth, ease the symptoms of the cancer and help you live a longer life.

Recovery from metastatic breast cancer

Advanced cancer of any kind can be very challenging for you to live with — especially on the emotional side of things.

Doctors recommend that people who have this condition talk about how they're feeling with others who have metastatic breast cancer. You should also try to balance physical activity and rest, try to sleep well and learn-stress management techniques. Examples of these techniques include meditation, mindfulness, deep breathing and physical activity that's moderate, appropriate and enjoyable to you.

Find a breast cancer specialist nearby

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