Metastatic breast cancer

Metastatic breast cancer (also known as advanced or secondary breast cancer) is invasive breast cancer that has spread from the breast to other parts of the body.

Younger women may be even more distressed by a diagnosis of recurrent or metastatic breast cancer than by the initial diagnosis. The possibility of death raises the issue of leaving behind partners and young children. However, even though cure may not be possible, treatment can improve symptoms and quality of life.

Chemotherapy, hormone therapy and radiotherapy can be used in advanced disease to shrink tumours and improve symptoms, with beneficial effects on length and quality of life. Treatments are also available to treat cancer pain.

A palliative care service can provide treatments to control symptoms, as well as psychological and social support, and support for children and partners. A woman with secondary breast cancer can ask her doctor for a referral to a specialist palliative care service at any point after a diagnosis of secondary breast cancer.

Palliative care may be particularly helpful for women who decide they no longer wish to have active treatment to control their cancer. However, women who are relatively well and continuing to receive active treatment may also benefit from making contact with a specialist palliative care service, particularly for women experiencing symptoms that are difficult to control. Finding the words – starting a conversation when your cancer has progressed  is a resource that was developed to help women with secondary breast or ovarian cancer talk about how palliative care might help them to live as well as possible when cancer has spread.

Further information on managing the secondary breast cancer on Cancer Australia website.