FAQs About Metastatic Breast Cancer

In 2020, more than 168,000 women in the United States were living with metastatic breast cancer. Men also can develop this advanced cancer, but their numbers are much smaller. If you or someone you know has been diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer, you may have questions about the illness and what to expect.1,2

What are metastatic tumors, and where are they found?

A metastatic tumor has broken away from the original tumor and moved to a different part of the body. For instance, breast cancer can spread to the brain. But it will still be called breast cancer because it is made up of breast cells rather than brain cells.1

Metastatic tumors are often found in the lungs, brain, and liver. But they also can settle in the bones (bone metastases). Breast and prostate cancer account for most bone metastases.1,3

What are the symptoms of metastatic breast cancer?

Depending on which part of your body the cancer moves to, you might experience a wide range of symptoms. They may include:4

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Trouble controlling your bladder
  • Body numbness or weakness
  • Persistent cough
  • Stomach bloating, pain, or tenderness
  • Yellowed skin or whites of the eyes (jaundice)
  • Lingering back, bone, or joint pain
  • Vision problems
  • Seizures
  • Pain in your chest
  • Confusion
  • Appetite loss
  • Headache

How many people are diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer?

Breast cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer. In 2020 alone, more than 2.2 million women around the world were diagnosed with breast cancer. About 6 percent of those women were diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer.5

Researchers are working to learn more about how many people with early-stage breast cancer will later progress to metastatic cancer.5

Can men get metastatic breast cancer?

There is a misconception that men cannot get breast cancer since it is most prevalent in women. Men can get breast cancer, but it is a small fraction of overall cases. In the United States, less than 1 percent of people with breast cancer are men.2

Are people living longer with metastatic breast cancer?

Studies have found that the length of time women survive past a metastatic breast cancer diagnosis has greatly improved. This is likely due to advances in medical care.6

The current 5-year survival rate for metastatic breast cancer is 29 percent for women and 22 percent for men. Up to 3 percent of women with metastatic breast cancer live longer than 15 years.5,6

Can metastatic breast cancer come back after treatment?

Cancer can strike again after you finish treatment. This usually happens because the medicine or surgery did not destroy all of the cancer cells. The cells can grow again months or years after treatment. Metastatic breast cancer happens when these cancerous cells move to a different location and form a new tumor.7

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