metastatic breast cancer

Metastatic breast cancer is 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.

Learn more about treatment options at the Women’s Cancer Program at UPMC Magee-Womens Hospital. To make an appointment, call 866-696-2433.

What Is Metastatic Breast Cancer?

Also called stage 4 breast cancer, this cancer has spread beyond the initial tumor site. The tumor 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 traveled to a new location, rather than returning in or near the original site.

Never Miss a Beat!

Get Healthy Tips Sent to Your Phone!

Message and data rates may apply. Text STOP to opt out and HELP for help. Go to https://pages.upmc.com/terms for privacy and terms.
array(11) {
  ["id"]=>
  string(7) "sms-cta"
  ["type"]=>
  string(4) "form"
  ["title"]=>
  string(36) "Get Healthy Tips Sent to Your Phone!"
  ["category"]=>
  string(0) ""
  ["subcategory"]=>
  string(0) ""
  ["keyword"]=>
  string(6) "HBEATS"
  ["utm_source"]=>
  string(0) ""
  ["utm_medium"]=>
  string(0) ""
  ["utm_campaign"]=>
  string(0) ""
  ["utm_content"]=>
  string(0) ""
  ["utm_term"]=>
  string(0) ""
}

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 4 breast cancer has symptoms. When symptoms do occur, they depend on where the cancer has spread. Some symptoms are:

  • 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 also may 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. Breastcancer.org estimates that about 30 percent of women who had early-stage breast cancer will later be diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer. However, this number has fallen rapidly in recent years and is now approximately 20 percent.

Receiving a metastatic breast cancer diagnosis can be overwhelming. Treatments can go a long way toward managing symptoms and extending your life. But it’s also a time to have challenging conversations with your doctor and family about your wishes. Make sure that any treatment approach fits your values, desires, and lifestyle to balance side effects with benefits.

Learn more about treatment options at the Women’s Cancer Program at UPMC Magee-Womens Hospital. To make an appointment, call 866-696-2433.

About UPMC Hillman Cancer Center

The UPMC Hillman Cancer Center provides world-class cancer care, from diagnosis to treatment, to help you in your cancer battle. We are the only comprehensive cancer center in our region, as designated by the National Cancer Institute. We have more than 60 locations throughout western Pennsylvania and Ohio, with more than 200 oncologists. Our internationally renowned research team is striving to find new advances in prevention, detection, and treatment.