For support and advice from others, visit our Stage 3 and 4 Breast Cancer Community
What is Metastatic Breast Cancer?
Metastatic Breast Cancer is breast cancer that spreads to other organs or to lymph nodes far from the primary tumor in the tissue of the breast, and is also known as Stage IV Breast Cancer. Breast cancer is a cancer that forms in the tissue of the breast, usually the ducts (tubes that carry milk to the nipple) and lobules (glands that make milk). It occurs in both men and women, although male breast cancer is rare.
What is breast cancer?
Breast cancer is a disease in which malignant (cancer) cells form in the tissues of the breast.
The breast is made up of lobes and ducts. Each breast has 15 to 20 sections called lobes, which have many smaller sections called lobules. Lobules end in dozens of tiny bulbs that can produce milk. The lobes, lobules, and bulbs are linked by thin tubes called ducts.
Each breast also has blood vessels and lymph vessels. The lymph vessels carry almost colorless fluid called lymph. Lymph vessels lead to organs called lymph nodes. Lymph nodes are small bean-shaped structures that are found throughout the body. They filter substances in fluid called lymph and help fight infection and disease. Clusters of lymph nodes are found near the breast in the axilla (under the arm), above the collarbone, and in the chest.
The most common type of breast cancer is ductal carcinoma, which begins in the cells of the ducts. Cancer that begins in the lobes or lobules is called lobular carcinoma and is more often found in both breasts than are other types of breast cancer, such as invasive ductal carcinoma and inflammatory breast cancer.
What are the symptoms of metastatic breast cancer?
When symptoms of metastatic breast cancer occur, the type and frequency of the symptoms will depend on the size and location of the metastasis. For example, breast cancer that spreads to the bones is likely to cause pain and can lead to bone fractures. Breast cancer that spreads to the brain can cause a variety of symptoms, including headaches, seizures, and unsteadiness. Shortness of breath may be a sign of lung involvement. Abdominal swelling or jaundice (yellowing of the skin) can indicate that cancer has spread to the liver.
Sometimes a person's primary cancer is discovered only after the metastatic tumor causes symptoms.
What treatments are used for metastatic breast cancer?
When breast cancer has metastasized, it may be treated with chemotherapy, radiation therapy, biological therapy, hormone therapy, surgery, cryosurgery, or a combination of these. The choice of treatment generally depends on the type of primary cancer, the size and location of the metastasis, the patient's age and general health, and the types of treatments the patient has had in the past. In patients with CUP (cancer of unknown primary origin), it is possible to treat the disease even though the primary tumor has not been located. The goal of treatment may be to control the cancer, or to relieve symptoms or side effects of treatment.
Are new treatments for metastatic breast cancer being developed?
Yes, many new metastatic breast cancer treatments are under study. To develop new treatments, the NCI sponsors clinical trials (research studies) with breast cancer patients in many hospitals, universities, medical schools, and breast cancer centers around the country. Clinical trials are a critical step in the improvement of treatment. Before any new treatment can be recommended for general use, doctors conduct studies to find out whether the treatment is both safe for patients and effective against the disease. The results of such studies have led to progress not only in the treatment of breast cancer, but in the detection, diagnosis, and prevention of the disease as well. Patients interested in taking part in a clinical trial should talk with their doctor.
Source: Compiled from information from the National Cancer Institute (NCI), a division of the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
NCI health-related material is provided for information purposes only and does not necessarily represent endorsement by or an official position of the National Cancer Institute or any other Federal Agency. Advice on the treatment or care of an individual patient should be obtained through consultation with a physician who has examined that patient or is familiar with that patient's medical history.
o Metastatic Breast Cancer- Metastasis, primary cancer
o Metastatic Breast Cancer- Risk factors, detection, prognosis, prevention