Distant Recurrence or Metastasis: When Breast Cancer Returns

Patient Expert

An Introduction to Breast Cancer Recurrence, Part II

A distant recurrence is more serious than a local or regional recurrence. It means your original breast cancer has spread from its primary site, the site first treated, to somewhere else in your body beyond the breast: usually, your bones, lungs, brain, or liver. When this happens, your cancer is called metastatic; the new tumors are called metastases (or in cancer slang, "mets.")

Unfortunately, unlike local and regional recurrences, metastatic breast cancer is fairly symptom-less until it's pretty far along. It won't be detected via mammogram; you won't feel a lump. Instead, you may have bone pain, shortness of breath, changes in your appetite or weight loss, headaches... symptoms that can be due to a number of causes beyond cancer, many of them benign. So diagnosing metastatic breast cancer is tricky.

Treatment for Metastatic Breast Cancer

And the treatment? Metastatic breast cancer is considered incurable; only about 20% of women with that diagnosis survive beyond 5 years. BUT, those are current statistics; drug breakthroughs are happening every day. And you WILL be treated; metastatic breast cancer can't be cured, but it can definitely be put into remission.

Metastatic breast cancer treatment may include:

  1. Surgery or radiation for any localized tumors in the breast.

  1. Chemotherapy, hormonal treatments or both.

  1. Metastasis to the brain may require radiation and high-dose steroids.

  1. Metastasis to the bone (75% of cases involve the bones) may be helped with radiation and bisphosphonates.

  1. Breast cancer clinical trials.

For a more, read this section on Breast Cancer Treatment: Stage IV (Metastasized Cancer).

Treatment for metastatic breast cancer is based on where the cancer has spread. And believe it or not, breast cancer that's spread to another area of the body is often MORE treatable than a new cancer in another place, e.g., lung cancer or liver cancer. So, take heart; you're in for another bout of treatment, and you can't see the path ahead clearly. But long-term remission is possible. And, while you're in remission, the cure might at last be found.

For news and updates on metastatic breast cancer:

Metastatic Breast Cancer: Hope on the Horizon?

Advanced / Metastatic Breast Cancer: New Drugs Improve Breast Cancer Survival

For a personal perspective on recurrence:

Breast Cancer Recurrence: Is It Back?