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Breast Cancer Health Center

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Breast Cancer Treatment (PDQ®): Treatment - Health Professional Information [NCI] - Stage IIIB, Inoperable IIIC, IV, Recurrent, and Metastatic Breast Cancer


Treatment of metastatic breast cancer will usually involve hormone therapy and/or chemotherapy with or without trastuzumab. Radiation therapy and/or surgery may be indicated for patients with limited symptomatic metastases. All patients with metastatic or recurrent breast cancer should be considered candidates for ongoing clinical trials.


Surgery may be indicated for selected patients. Examples include patients who need mastectomies for fungating/painful breast lesions, parenchymal brain or vertebral metastases with spinal cord compression, isolated lung metastases, pathologic (or impending) fractures, or pleural or pericardial effusions. (Refer to the PDQ summary on Pain for more information and for information on pleural and pericardial effusions, refer to the PDQ summary on Cardiopulmonary Syndromes.)

Radiation therapy

Radiation therapy has a major role in the palliation of localized symptomatic metastases. Indications include painful bony metastases, unresectable central nervous system metastases (i.e., brain, meningeal, and spinal cord), bronchial obstruction, and fungating/painful breast or chest wall lesions. Radiation therapy should also be given following surgery for decompression of intracranial or spinal cord metastases and following fixation of pathologic fractures. Clinical trials (including the completed Radiation Therapy Oncology Group's (RTOG) trial [RTOG-9714]) are exploring the optimal radiation fractionation schedule. Strontium 89, a systemically administered radionuclide, can be administered for palliation of diffuse bony metastases.[17,18] (Refer to the PDQ summary on Pain for more information.)

Current Clinical Trials

Check for U.S. clinical trials from NCI's list of cancer clinical trials that are now accepting patients with stage IV breast cancer and recurrent breast cancer. The list of clinical trials can be further narrowed by location, drug, intervention, and other criteria.

General information about clinical trials is also available from the NCI Web site.

Systemic Therapy


The use of bisphosphonates to reduce skeletal morbidity in patients with bone metastases should be considered.[19] Results of randomized trials of pamidronate and clodronate in patients with bony metastatic disease show decreased skeletal morbidity.[20,21,22][Level of evidence: 1iC] Zoledronate has been at least as effective as pamidronate.[23] (Refer to the PDQ summary on Pain for more information on bisphosphonates.)

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