We hear about breast cancer on almost a daily basis, yet many people have never heard of secondary breast cancer and even though the disease kills on average 1,000 people every single month in the UK alone.
Secondary breast cancer, also known as metastatic, advanced or stage IV breast cancer, is a cancer that has spread beyond the breast to other parts of the body. It occurs when the initial breast cancer cells (primary breast cancer) spread through the blood stream or lymphatic system to other parts of the body.
Parts of the body affected are usually the bones, liver, lungs, brain or the skin. Secondary breast cancer may be diagnosed years after primary breast cancer. Researchers estimate that 35% of people with primary breast cancer will develop secondary breast cancer within the 10 years of their initial diagnosis. It is estimated that approximately 5% of people with breast cancer already have secondary tumours at the point of diagnosis. This is classified as being diagnosed ‘denovo’.
Secondary breast cancer can be treated but it cannot be cured. Treatments aim to control and slow down the disease to enable patients to have the best possible quality of life for as long as possible.