What is Metastatic Breast Cancer?

What is Metastatic Breast Cancer?

Metastatic breast cancer is cancer that has spread from the place where it first developed, in the ducts or lobules of the breast, to a different part of the body. It is also called Stage 4 Breast Cancer. It is important to remember that although the disease may be in a different part of the body, and even though you may have had your breast or breasts removed, it is still breast cancer. Therefore, the treatments will be those for breast cancer as they will be most effective in treating it.

Diagnosing Metastatic Breast Cancer


If you have a history of breast cancer and you develop cancer in a different part of the body, your doctors will do tests to determine whether it is breast cancer that has spread or a new, primary cancer in another area of the body. The most common sites for breast cancer metastases are the bones, lungs, liver and brain.

A diagnosis of metastatic breast cancer can evoke many different emotions. It’s extremely important to allow yourself to experience all of your feelings.

Key Issues To Discuss With Your Doctor About A Metastatic Breast Cancer Diagnosis

  • Is it okay to get another opinion? 
    If you have doubts or concerns about your diagnosis, it’s not just acceptable but highly recommended to get a second opinion. You have the right to ask for your tissue samples to be sent to another pathologist. Ask your medical oncologist or nurse for recommendations. Also, ask the doctor or nurse if you need help figuring out whether your insurance will cover a second opinion. 

  • Is it breast cancer? 
    If you have had breast cancer in the past and develop cancer in one of the common sites for metastases your doctor may suspect that it’s breast cancer that has recurred. He or she will likely still recommend a series of tests including a biopsy to be sure. 

  • Is it a different type of cancer called a “second primary”? 
    If you have had breast cancer and develop cancer in an area of the body not common for metastases, of if there are other reasons to suspect that this might be a new cancer, your doctor will recommend a biopsy and other tests to determine what type of cancer it is so that you will get the most appropriate treatment. 

  • Is it the same as my earlier breast cancer? 
    If tissue is available from our initial breast cancer, the tissue from the new biopsy can be compared with it. If many years have passed since your initial diagnosis and tissue is not available, there are still ways to tell what kind of cancer it is based on the appearance of the cells as well as biochemical testing. 

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