Metastatic Breast Cancer: Overview

Metastatic Breast Cancer: Overview

[Metastatic breast cancer ribbon logo used by permission of METAvivor Research and Support]

Metastatic Breast Cancer (MBC) is breast cancer that has spread outside of the breast and lymph nodes underneath the arm (axillary lymph nodes), and moved into other parts of the body.  MBC may be found at the time of initial breast cancer diagnosis, or it can occur years or even decades after the original breast cancer diagnosis and treatment. MBC is also known as advanced breast cancer. While there is no cure for MBC, patients with MBC can usually be offered treatment to help prolong life and improve or maintain a good quality of life.


Metastatic Breast Cancer Facts:

  • MBC is called many things including advanced breast cancer or Stage IV disease. Most patients use this language interchangeably. 
  • 6-10% of patients will have MBC when the breast cancer is diagnosed. This is often referred to de novo cancer.
  • The most common sites of MBC are bones, lungs, liver and brain, although some breast cancers will move  to the abdominal cavity, ovaries and even the skin.
  • MBC is normally treated with systemic therapy which is treatment that goes throughout the entire body, such as chemotherapy or hormone blocking therapy.
  • Radiation can be used to treat MBC and can be helpful with pain management.
  • When MBC is diagnosed, a separate or new biopsy of the distant site should be done to help direct treatment whenever possible.
  • Advances are being made in the treatment of MBC through clinical trials.
  • October 13 is National Metastatic Breast Cancer Awareness Day.

MBC treatment is based on the location of the metastases and the biology of the disease. Bone metastases (cancer that has spread to the bones) are frequently treated with hormone blocking agents that are taken as a pill. Liver and brain metastases may be addressed with chemotherapy and/or medications targeting cell growth. Sometimes radiation therapy will be used to target  metastatic breast cancer. The role of surgery may hold a place for some patients with MBC. There is currently promising research in using vaccinations for treating MBC.

Women and men living with MBC have treatment options but will likely change therapies as some cease to work or new treatments become available. A partnership with an oncologist will ease decision-making and ensure that treatment decisions are balanced with offering a good quality of life whenever possible. 

Physicians and scientists continue to make progress in treating their MBC patients with the help of advocacy groups and clinical trials. MBC patients should talk with their physicians about their individual case and develop a plan that is best for them.