Community Views: Where Did Your Breast Cancer Metastasize to First?
Finding breast cancer cells in other areas of the body means the cancer has metastasized. Bones, liver, lungs, lymph nodes, and the brain are the common sites for metastatic breast cancer (MBC). For family and friends unfamiliar with metastasis, the concept can be unclear. You still have breast cancer, but now it is in the bones. It is not bone cancer.1
There is no set pattern of how breast cancer metastasizes. Each person is unique. We wanted to know where your metastatic breast cancer cells first showed up. We asked members of our Facebook community to tell us: “Where did your breast cancer metastasize to first?”
The most common site of metastasis for breast cancer is the bones. Breast cancer cells can attach to any bone. The spine, pelvis, ribs, and long bones of arms and legs are common sites. Those diagnosed with bone metastases agreed.2
“Ribs, spine, and hip.”
“Spine and pelvis.”
“Bones: humerus, spine, ribs.”
“Bones (right femur, left hip, a left rib, and multiple vertebrae).”
While some metastatic sites can cause symptoms, lung metastases do not. Follow-up imaging tests usually discover lung spots. It is vital that doctors biopsy lung tumors. The treatment for primary lung cancer is different from MBC in the lungs.3
“Both lungs and lymph nodes behind my sternum, all within 10 months of initial diagnosis. Now I have 2 very large areas in my liver as well."
“Initially lungs, lymph nodes, and brain. Several months later, liver and bones.”
The third most common site for MBC is the liver. Symptoms may not occur until the cancer becomes widespread. Blood tests and imaging are often the first indicators of liver metastases.4
“On initial diagnosis, they thought I had stage 2, but the MRI showed a spot on my liver. A PET scan found additional spots on my sternum, lung, and liver.”
“Mine was discovered on my liver first, then my spine.”
Lymph node metastases
Breast cancer cells spread to other areas through the bloodstream or lymph system. Lymph nodes are bean-shaped glands along the lymphatic system. These nodes clean the lymph fluid as it moves through the body. When cancer cells move through the lymph system, they can attach to the lymph nodes. Most often, they attach in nodes close to the breast. MBC cells can also be found in nodes further away.1,5,6
“Lymph nodes in my left armpit.”
“Lymph nodes (distant), bone, and skin de novo.”
Another location of metastasis mentioned was the brain. In 10 to 15 percent of MBC cases, breast cancer will metastasize to the brain. For 17 percent of those cases, the brain will be the only site of metastasis. The risk for this site is higher for those with aggressive subtypes of breast cancer.7
“My brain, twice.”
A few community members shared having unusual metastases. Unusual metastases include those in the endocrine and reproductive systems and soft tissues, among others. Typically, there are mechanisms to prevent unusual metastases. These occur at around 1 percent at each site.8
“Adrenal gland, which is rare. My oncologist said it’s not necessarily that it doesn’t happen a lot. It’s likely just not caught until it has spread further. They’re writing a paper on me.”
“It was discovered after I had a hysterectomy and oophorectomy. In the biopsy, they uncovered that the breast cancer had spread to my right ovary.”
“My breast cancer spread to my uterus. I was told by 3 oncologists that I’m a unicorn because that ‘never happens!’”
“It was detected in my right eye after a biopsy was done and confirmed.”
Where did your breast cancer metastasize to first?
Metastatic breast cancer affects each person differently. We appreciate our community sharing how MBC cells move and impacted their body.
Do you have a caregiver or are you a caregiver?