> Metastatic Breast Cancer (Stage IV or Advanced Breast Cancer) Introduction
Metastatic breast cancer (also called stage IV or advanced breast cancer) has spread beyond the breast to other organs in the body (most often the bones, lungs, liver or brain).
Although metastatic breast cancer has spread to another part of the body, it is still considered and treated as breast cancer. For example, breast cancer that has spread to the bones is still breast cancer (not bone cancer) and is treated with breast cancer drugs, rather than treatments for a cancer that began in the bones.
Some women have metastatic breast cancer when they are first diagnosed, but this is not common in the United States (five percent of diagnoses) . Most women with metastatic cancer develop it when the cancer returns at some point after their initial breast cancer diagnosis and treatment. This is sometimes called distant recurrence.
Learn more about breast cancer staging.
Learn more about recurrence.
Treatment for metastatic breast cancer
As hard as it is to hear, metastatic breast cancer cannot be cured. Unlike breast cancer that remains in the breast or nearby lymph nodes, you cannot get rid of all the cancer that has spread to other organs. This does not mean, however, that it cannot be treated. Some people with metastatic breast cancer may live for many years. And, as treatment for both early-stage and metastatic breast cancer continues to improve, so does survival.
Treatment of metastatic breast cancer focuses on length and quality of life. Your treatment plan is guided by many factors, including:
- Characteristics of the cancer cells
- Where the cancer has spread
- Your symptoms
- Past breast cancer treatments
If the cancer is hormone receptor-positive, the first treatment is hormone therapy. If the cancer is HER2/neu-positive, anti-HER2/neu drugs such as trastuzumab (Herceptin) may be given.
Chemotherapy and radiation can be used to shrink or slow the growth of tumors or to ease symptoms of the cancer itself. However, these therapies have side effects that can affect quality of life.
Talking openly about quality of life issues with your health care providers and your family can help you decide what treatments are best for you. Joining a support group may help you think through these issues.
Learn more about factors that affect treatment options.
Learn more about quality of life.
Learn more about support groups and other sources of support.
Treatment guidelines for metastatic breast cancer
Although the exact treatment for metastatic breast cancer varies from person to person, guidelines help ensure quality care. These guidelines are based on the latest research and the consensus of experts. The American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) and National Comprehensive Care Network (NCCN) are two respected organizations that regularly update and post their guidelines online. The National Cancer Institute (NCI) also has overviews of treatment options.
* Note that the information in Komen Perspectives articles is only current as of the posting date. Thus, some information may be out of date.