Stage 4 / Secondary Breast Cancer
Secondary or Metastatic breast cancer is cancer that has moved from the breast to other organs in the body, via the body cavities, blood stream or the lymph system. When the initial cancer cells move into and set up home in other areas, they can then form a new tumour. This new ‘secondary’ tumour is still made up of breast cancer cells even though they are in a new area of the body.
Breast cancer most commonly moves to the brain, bone, liver or lungs and whilst in many cases this can be treated, it currently cannot be cured.
Signs and Symptoms
The signs and symptoms of secondary breast cancer can on many occasions present themselves in a similar way to other conditions.
Some of the most common signs and symptoms to be aware of are:
Unexplained pain in your bones that doesn’t improve within 1-2 weeks or with pain relief. The pain may also make sleeping difficult.
Nausea and or vomiting
Feeling breathless / having a cough that does not go away
Feeling generally unwell
It is important that you discuss any of these signs or symptoms with your GP or breast cancer nurse.
On occasion women who develop secondary breast cancer have no symptoms at all and are diagnosed during a routine check up.
The tests that you have during the diagnostic process will be dependent on the symptoms that you may have.
In the majority of cases you will have a detailed scan such as a CT, MRI or PET CT Scan. X-rays, ultrasounds and biopsies can also be used to determine whether secondary breast cancer is present.
At present secondary breast cancer is incurable. As a result of this the main aim of treatment is to slow down the growth of the cancer and relieve symptoms for as long as possible.
There are numerous treatment routes that can be investigated, however each treatment plan is unique.
Currently treatment options can include: chemotherapy; radiotherapy; surgery; hormone therapy; targeted therapies and bisphosphonates.
Being diagnosed with secondary breast cancer is an unsettling and emotional time for all involved. For the individual with the diagnosis to immediate family and friends it can be difficult to adjust to the ‘new normal’ and cope with the uncertainty of day to day life. Accessing support can make a big difference in the ability to cope and help to keep going.
There are many UK organisations who provide support and guidance for living with secondary breast cancer: