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Breast Cancer, Metastatic or Recurrent - Treatment Overview

If you have recently been diagnosed with metastatic or recurrent breast cancer, you may have many emotions. There is no "normal" or "right" way to react. You may feel angry or frustrated and may second-guess your previous treatments. Or you may feel hopeless.

But there are treatments that help. Some recurrent breast cancers can be successfully treated. Other recurrent breast cancers and metastatic breast cancer usually can't be cured. With these cancers, treatment is focused on keeping the cancer from getting worse. This includes helping women live as long as possible and with a good quality of life.

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Types of treatment

When making decisions about treatment, you and your doctor will consider many things, such as your age and health, the type of breast cancer you have, where it is, and your preferences.

For recurrent breast cancer in the breast or chest wall, treatments may include:1

For recurrent breast cancer in other parts of the body and metastatic breast cancer, treatments may include:1

  • Hormone therapy and/or chemotherapy (with or without trastuzumab).
  • Tyrosine kinase inhibitor therapy with lapatinib and capecitabine.
  • Monoclonal antibody therapy, such as trastuzumab or trastuzumab and pertuzumab.
  • Radiation therapy, surgery, or both for symptoms that may be causing pain or other problems.
  • Bisphosphonates or denosumab to reduce bone pain, fractures, and spinal cord compression caused by cancer in the bones.
  • Being in a clinical trial, such as one testing new chemotherapy medicines and hormone therapy.

Side effects of treatment

Cancer and its treatments can be painful, but cancer pain can almost always be controlled. If you are having ongoing problems with managing pain, ask to see a pain specialist.

There are also many things you can do at home to help manage side effects of treatment. But talk to your doctor about any bothersome symptoms. Working together with your doctor can help you have the best possible quality of life.

Additional information about breast cancer is provided by the National Cancer Institute at www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/types/breast.

Clinical trials

Clinical trials test new medicines, combinations of medicines, and other treatments for breast cancer. If you have been diagnosed with metastatic or recurrent breast cancer, talk with your doctor about taking part in a clinical trial.

Palliative care

Cancer treatment has two main goals: curing cancer and making your quality of life as good as possible. Palliative care can improve your quality of life by helping you manage your symptoms. It can also help you with other concerns that you may have when you are living with a serious illness.

For some people who have advanced cancer, a time comes when treatment to cure cancer no longer seems like a good choice. This can be because the side effects, time, and costs of treatment are greater than the promise of cure or relief. But this isn't the end of treatment. You and your doctor can decide when you may be ready for hospice care.

It can be hard to decide when to stop treatment aimed at prolonging your life and to shift the focus to end-of-life care. For more information, see the topics:

WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: August 14, 2013
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
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