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FAQs about Metastatic Breast Cancer

How common is metastatic breast cancer?

According to the Metastatic Breast Cancer Alliance, up to 30% of people with breast cancer will develop metastatic (also called advanced or Stage IV) breast cancer. There are currently an estimated 155,000 people in the United States with the diagnosis.

How are metastatic breast cancer statistics calculated?

Most of the data on metastatic breast cancer refers to people who are diagnosed with it initially (also called de novo). Researchers estimate that approximately 6-10% of new breast cancer cases are Stage IV or metastatic disease. In 2012, that number equaled about 14,000-20,000 cases. It is very difficult to find statistics on people who develop the disease as part of a cancer recurrence. However, the prognoses of these two patient types are very different, so more research is needed.

What is the mortality rate of metastatic breast cancer?

Metastatic breast cancer costs 40,000 US lives per year.1 As of 2012, the five-year survival rate for women diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer is 22%. A recent study found that 37% of women survived for three years after an advanced (Stage IV) breast cancer diagnosis, although some women survive longer. In fact, researchers found that more than 11 percent of women diagnosed between 2000-2004 under the age of 64 survived 10 years or more.

Is the prognosis for metastatic breast cancer improving?

Yes. A recent National Cancer Institute study showed increased survival rates, especially for younger women diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer. Between 1992-1994 and 2005-2012, the five-year survival rate among women initially diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer at ages 15-49 doubled from 18% to 36%. In addition, the median survival time increased from 22 months to nearly 39 months for women diagnosed between ages 15-49, and from 19 months to nearly 30 months for women diagnosed between ages 50-64.3

What is a metastatic tumor and where are they found?

Tumors are cancerous breast cells that have spread to other parts of the body. Metastatic tumors are most often found in the liver, brain, bones, or lungs. This means that if breast cancer spreads to the lungs, the tumor in the lung is made of breast cells rather than lung cells. The most common place for breast cancer to spread is in the bones. Bone metastases account for 70% of cases.3

Can men get metastatic breast cancer?

Yes. It is a common misconception that only women can get breast cancer. In fact, 1% of breast cancer cases occur among men. Their cases are often misdiagnosed or caught in later stages than those for women.1

Can metastatic breast cancer occur after initial treatment?

Cancer treatment aims to eliminate or kill all cancer cells in the body. In some cases, a few cells from an early-stage breast tumor might be left, undetected. These cells can multiply and recur as cancer months or years after your initial diagnosis. Metastatic breast cancer occurs when these cells regrow and spread to other parts of the body.

What are symptoms of metastatic breast cancer?

The symptoms of metastatic breast cancer depend on where the tumor ends up. Tumors that spread to the bone can cause sudden pain. Tumors in the lungs might cause pain, shortness of breath, or a persistent cough. Tumors that develop in brain tissue can cause a variety of symptoms, including headaches, vision problems, changes in speech, memory difficulties, and other symptoms. Not all metastases cause symptoms. This includes tumors in the lungs and in the liver.3

  1. The Facts. Metastatic Breast Cancer Alliance. Available at https://www.keepmeinthepicture.org/get-the-facts/ Accessed January 15, 2019.
  2. Most Common Statistics Cited for MBC. Metastatic Breast Cancer Network. Available at http://mbcn.org/most-common-statistics-cited-for-mbc/ Accessed January 15, 2019.
  3. Understanding Breast Cancer Metastasis. Breast Cancer. Updated January 14, 2019. https://breast-cancer.ca/metsurv-stat/ Accessed January 15, 2019.
  4. Study estimates number of U.S. women living with metastatic breast cancer. National Cancer Institute. May 18, 2017. Available at https://www.cancer.gov/news-events/press-releases/2017/metastatic-breast-cancer-survival-rates Accessed January 15, 2019.
  5. Metastatic Breast Cancer. Breastcancer.org. Updated October 16, 2018. https://www.breastcancer.org/symptoms/types/recur_metast Accessed January 15, 2019.
  6. Recurrent Breast Cancer. The Mayo Clinic. Updated May 31, 2018. Available at https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/recurrent-breast-cancer/symptoms-causes/syc-20377135 Accessed January 15, 2019.

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