The 5-year survival rate for women with metastatic breast cancer is 29%. With proper treatment and care, some women can live up to 10 years or more after diagnosis.
Each patient is unique, however, and life expectancy depends on factors such as overall health, response to treatment, and where the metastasis occurs. In general, metastatic breast cancer is a terminal disease with no cure, and patients will need supportive care to prolong life expectancy and improve quality of life.
According to a study that compared 5-year survival rates from 1992-1994 to those from 2005-2012, the average survival rate of women under age 50 nearly doubled from 22.3 months to 39 months, and the average survival rate of women aged 50-64 increased from 19 months to almost 30 months.
What is metastatic breast cancer?
Metastatic breast cancer is also called stage IV or advanced breast cancer, in which the cancer has spread beyond the breast and adjacent lymph nodes to other parts of the body such as the bones, lungs, liver, or brain.
Remote recurrence occurs when metastatic breast cancer develops months or years after a person has finished therapy for early or locally advanced breast cancer.
Only 6% of women and 9% of men in the U.S. are diagnosed with de novo metastatic breast cancer, which refers to breast cancer that is already metastatic at the time of diagnosis.
What are the symptoms of metastatic breast cancer?
Symptoms of metastatic breast cancer are tricky because they vary depending on where the metastasis occurs. Some symptoms may be side effects of cancer treatment or a sign of stress or depression associated with the disease. It is crucial to investigate the cause.
Common symptoms of metastatic breast cancer include:
- Severe pain and swelling in the bones or the joints
- Weak bones (easily fractured)
- Nausea and vomiting
- Abdominal pain
- Loss of appetite
- Chest pain
- Chronic cough
- Loss of balance
- Vision changes
- Behavioral changes
What are treatment options for metastatic breast cancer?
While there is no cure for metastatic breast cancer, there are several treatment options that can help patients live longer lives. Treatment options depend on where the cancer has spread, features of the tumor (hormone receptor or HER2 status), and past therapies:
- Hormonal therapy: Tamoxifen, fulvestrant, or aromatase inhibitors are used to stop or delay the progression of hormone receptor-positive or HR+ metastatic breast cancer.
- Immunotherapy: Trastuzumab, pertuzumab, and pembrolizumab are examples of antibodies that can be used to boost the immune system to fight cancer.
- Chemotherapy: Doxorubicin, capecitabine, and paclitaxel may be administered alone or in combination with other treatments to treat metastatic breast cancer that is growing quickly or is present in other organs.
- Targeted therapy: Targeted therapy involves using drugs that target specific features of cancer cells, such as proteins that cause cancer to spread uncontrollably. While chemotherapy drugs cannot differentiate between cancerous and noncancerous cells and thus kill both, targeted therapies are less likely to harm normal cells. FDA-approved targeted treatments for metastatic breast cancer include:
- PARP-inhibitors: Olaparib and talozoparib target an important enzyme involved in DNA repair.
- CDK4/6-inhibitors: Palbociclib and abemaciclib can interrupt specific enzymes to slow or stop cancer cells from growing.
While surgery is a possibility, it is difficult to eliminate all cancer cells in metastatic breast cancer. Some doctors may propose targeted surgery and radiation to relieve pain or symptoms. Furthermore, although other localized therapies, such as radiation therapy, ablation, or chemotherapy, are not commonly used to treat metastatic breast cancer, they may be used in certain circumstances, such as the following:
- Tumors press on critical areas of the brain or spinal cord
- Bone metastases weaken the bone to the point of fracture
- Lung lesions make breathing difficult
- Tumors interfere with normal liver function
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Breastcancer.org. More Women Are Living With Metastatic Breast Cancer and Living Longer. https://www.breastcancer.org/research-news/more-women-living-w-mets-and-living-longer
Wisely R. Metastatic Breast Cancer: What You Should Know. Michigan Health. https://healthblog.uofmhealth.org/cancer-care/metastatic-breast-cancer-what-you-should-know
Roché H, Vahdat LT. Treatment of metastatic breast cancer: second-line and beyond. Ann Oncol. 2011 May;22(5):1000-1010. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0923753419385059
Top Life Expectancy of Metastatic Breast Cancer Related Articles
Breast cancer is an invasive tumor that develops in the mammary gland. Breast cancer is detected via mammograms, breast self-examination (BSE), biopsy, and specialized testing on breast cancer tissue. Treatment of breast cancer may involve surgery, radiation, hormone therapy, chemotherapy, and targeted therapy. Breast cancer risk may be lowered by managing controllable risk factors.
What you should know about breast cancer
- Breast cancer is the most common cancer among American women.
- One in every eight women in the United States develops breast cancer.
- There are many types of breast cancer that differ in their capability of spreading (metastasize) to other body tissues.
- The causes of breast cancer are unknown, although medical professionals have identified a number of risk factors.
- There are 11 common types of breast cancer and 4 uncommon types of breast cancer.
- Breast cancer early signs and symptoms include
- a lump in the breast or armpit,
- bloody nipple discharge,
- inverted nipple,
- orange-peel texture or dimpling of the breast's skin (peau d'orange),
- breast pain or sore nipple,
- swollen lymph nodes in the neck or armpit, and
- a change in the size or shape of the breast or nipple.
- Breast cancer can also be symptom free, which makes following national screening recommendations an important practice.
- Breast cancer is diagnosed during a physical exam, by a self-exam of the breasts, mammography, ultrasound testing, and biopsy.
- Treatment of breast cancer depends on the type of cancer and its stage (0-IV) and may involve surgery, radiation, or chemotherapy.
Breast Cancer Follow-Up Self-ExamA breast cancer follow-up self-exam is a test that may help a woman detect a recurrence of the disease. A woman should perform a monthly self-exam of both breasts as well as attend scheduled follow-up appointments to detect any breast cancer recurrence early. Lymph node involvement, tumor size, hormone receptor status, histologic grade, nuclear grade, and oncogene expression help determine the likelihood of a recurrence.
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Inflammatory Breast CancerInflammatory breast cancer is an accelerated form of breast cancer that is not usually detected by mammogram or ultrasound. Symptoms of inflammatory breast cancer include pain in the breast, skin change in the breast area, bruise on the breast,sudden swelling of the breast, nipple retraction or discharge, and swelling of the lymph nodes.
Is Breast Cancer Metastatic Terminal?Breast cancer is the leading cause of cancer globally, overtaking lung cancer in some countries. Metastatic breast cancer is an advanced stage cancer that has spread to distant organs.
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What Is the Survival Rate for Locally Advanced Breast Cancer?The 5-year survival rate for locally advanced breast cancer (LABC) is 72%, depending on the size of the tumor and the involvement of lymph nodes and surrounding tissues.
What Are the Signs of Metastatic Breast Cancer?Signs of metastatic breast cancer (breast cancer that has spread to other parts of the body) include constant fatigue, constant nausea, loss of appetite and unexplained weight loss.
What Type of Breast Cancer Is Most Likely to Metastasize?While all types of breast cancer have the potential to metastasize, HER2-positive and triple-negative cancers are more likely to metastasize faster than the other types.