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Breast Cancer Health Center

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Breast Cancer, Metastatic or Recurrent - Topic Overview

This topic provides information about breast cancer that has spread or come back after treatment. If you are looking for information about first-time diagnosis and treatment of breast cancer, see the topic Breast Cancer.

Breast cancer occurs when abnormal cells grow out of control in one or both breasts.

  • Metastatic breast cancer means that cancer has spread to other parts of the body.
  • Recurrent breast cancer means that cancer has come back in or near the original site or in another part of the body.

For most women who have had breast cancer, their greatest fear is that the cancer will come back or spread. Finding out that this has happened can turn your world upside down. But there is hope. Some recurrent breast cancers can be successfully treated. Other recurrent breast cancers and metastatic breast cancer usually can't be cured. But with treatment, some women live for many years.

Even with the best treatment, cancer can come back. If just a few cancer cells remain in your body after your initial treatment, those cells can spread through the blood or lymph system and grow. This may happen from a few months to many years after the first diagnosis.

If your breast cancer has come back, you may second-guess your previous treatment choices. But the fact is, there is no guarantee with any treatment. Now it is time to make new decisions and explore other treatment options.

The symptoms depend on where the cancer is and how large it is. The most common places for breast cancer to spread are within the breast or to the nearby chest wall or to the liver, lungs, or bones. Common symptoms include a lump in your breast or on your chest wall, bone pain, and shortness of breath.

Or you may not have any symptoms. Sometimes recurrent or metastatic breast cancer is found with an X-ray or a lab test.

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