Metastatic breast cancer, also called stage IV or advanced breast cancer, is breast cancer that has spread beyond the breast to other organs in the body, most often the bones, lungs, liver, or brain.
In the U.S., it is estimated that at least 154,000 people have metastatic breast cancer.* It is not common to be diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer when you are first diagnosed; only about six percent of initial breast cancer diagnoses are stage IV.
Most often, metastatic breast cancer develops when the cancer returns at some point after the initial breast cancer diagnosis and treatment.
Although metastatic breast cancer is not curable, it can be treated. Treatment focuses on length and quality of life. As treatment continues to improve, so does survival. Today, some people may live many years with metastatic breast cancer.
Metastatic Breast Cancer Project
If you have metastatic breast cancer, you have the power to accelerate cancer research in a way that no one else can. Join a nationwide movement of patients, doctors, and scientists by sharing your tumor samples, your medical information, and your voice.
Due to the unique genetic information in your cancer, your tumor and medical records could hold the key to rapid advances in cancer treatment. By looking at DNA in your samples, researchers can make discoveries that will ultimately lead to a better understanding and faster advances in the treatment of metastatic breast cancer.
Symptom Management and Supportive Care
There are many ways to manage side effects caused by metastatic breast cancer treatment and the cancer itself. Tell your health care provider about any pain or other side effects that you have.
Quality of Life and Support
Quality of life describes your overall well-being. Your mental and physical health as well as concerns about financial issues can affect your quality of life.
Learn about quality of life, how counseling or other support can help improve your quality life and how emotional support is also important for those who care for someone with metastatic breast cancer.
Palliative care is not end-of-life or hospice care. It is a special type of health care for people with a serious illness. Its goal is to improve the quality of life of both patients and their families. Palliative care encompasses a wide range of therapies and services and can be used across the full spectrum of breast cancer care.
Palliative care can be used for early stage breast cancer to help prevent and relieve symptoms and side effects related to cancer and its treatment, but it plays a bigger role for those with metastatic breast cancer.
A main focus of palliative care in metastatic breast cancer care is the management and prevention of symptoms and side effects to the cancer and/or its treatment.
Palliative can also help patients and family members:
- Address spiritual and emotional issues
- Get support for making decisions about treatments and other care
- Access grief counseling
Most palliative care can be provided by the oncology team at the patient’s treatment facility.
Hospice and End-of-Life Care
At some point, treatment for metastatic breast cancer may be stopped. This can happen when treatment stops showing any benefit or when it greatly affects quality of life. Reducing symptoms then becomes the main focus of care.
There are several other organizations that provide resources, information, and support for women living with metastatic breast cancer.
Metastatic Breast Cancer Alliance raises awareness for and participation in clinical trials, while also providing a list of organizations that provide support services.
Metastatic Breast Cancer Network empowers metastatic breast cancer patient to share their story, educates patients and the public about living with the disease, and advocates for more focused research on metastatic breast cancer.
Living Beyond Breast Cancer provides many resources and support for women living with metastatic breast cancer.
Facing Our Risk of Cancer Empowered (FORCE) has local support groups and other resources for those affected by heredity breast, ovarian, and related cancers.
*Mariotto AB, Etzioni R, Hurlbert M, PenberthyL, Mayer M. Estimation of the number of women living with metastatic breast cancer in the United States. Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev. 26(6):809-815, 2017.