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Where Breast Cancer Metastasizes - Results from the 2020 In America Survey

Breast cancer, especially when advanced to later stages, can be challenging to treat. This is because in many cases, the original cancer has metastasized (or spread) elsewhere in the body. This spread can be local, such as to lymph nodes in the area of the affected breast. Metastasis can also be relatively far away from the original cancer, such as in the liver, bones, uterus, or other locations.

The spread of a person’s cancer can be hard to predict and often depends on their personal situation, the type of breast cancer they have, the stage they were diagnosed at, treatment options pursued, and more. No two individuals’ progression of breast cancer – or lack of progression – are alike.

To find out more about life with breast cancer, including its spread, we conducted our 2020 Advanced Breast Cancer In America survey. More than 500 people with advanced breast cancer completed the survey, and more than half of all respondents had been diagnosed with either stage III or stage IV breast cancer. This means their original cancer had already spread beyond its initial site by the time they were diagnosed. Their responses provide a unique look at advanced breast cancer progression.

Metastasis to the bone is most common

More than 60 percent of all survey respondents shared that their cancer had spread to their bones. This was by far the most common area where breast cancer metastasized and reported by almost 25 percent more respondents than the next more common site. Bone metastasis may occur near the breast or in other bones further away.

Breast cancer often spreads to the lymph nodes

Many cancers often first travel to local lymph nodes and, in turn, spread throughout the body. Unsurprisingly, lymph node spread was a commonly reported site of metastasis. It was the second most commonly noted, with nearly 40 percent of survey respondents sharing that their cancer had spread to their lymph nodes. These lymph nodes may have been nearby their original cancer or further away from the initial site.

More distant sites: Liver, lungs, spine, and brain

Distant metastases were less commonly reported, but included sites like the liver and brain. Metastasized sites included:

  • Liver (32 percent)
  • Lungs (27 percent)
  • Spine (26 percent)
  • Chest (9 percent)
  • Brain (5 percent)

About 13 percent of survey respondents shared that their cancer metastasized to other areas throughout the body. These sites less commonly reported sites included:

  • Uterus
  • Stomach
  • Spleen
  • Skin
  • Pancreas
  • Ovaries
  • Colon

Overall, metastasis was commonly reported among all survey respondents. Only 1 percent of respondents said their breast cancer had not spread. However, the specific location of metastasis can vary considerably from person to person and can be hard to predict. Although the most common sites were the bones and lymph nodes, there were still other, more distant locations that were regularly noted.

The thought of metastasis can be scary. However, one of the best ways to prevent further spread or to catch progression early is to follow-up regularly with your healthcare team. They will recommend appointment schedules and tests for monitoring your cancer. Keeping all of these appointments and maintaining good communication with your doctor when you have concerns is critical for monitoring progression.

The 2020 Breast Cancer In America survey was conducted online from September 2019 through February 2020. 592 people completed the survey.

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