Metastatic breast cancer means the cancer has spread from your breast to your bones, lungs, or other parts of your body.

No matter where the cancer spreads, it's still called "breast cancer." For example, breast cancer that has spread to your lungs is called "breast cancer," not "lung cancer." Your doctor will still treat it like breast cancer.

Doctors sometimes use the term "advanced breast cancer" or "stage IV breast cancer" to describe cancer that has spread. Stage IV is the most advanced stage of the disease.

If your cancer has metastasized (another way to say "spread"), you might wonder what to expect. Advanced breast cancer isn't curable, but it is treatable. Several treatments can slow its progress, relieve your pain and other symptoms, and help you live longer.

How Common Is It?

About 155,000 women in the United States live with metastatic breast cancer. Men can have metastatic breast cancer too, but it's rare.

Only 6% to 10% of women with breast cancer are diagnosed at stage IV. About 20% to 30% of women are diagnosed with an early-stage breast cancer, and then the cancer spreads.

How Breast Cancer Spreads

Cancer cells can travel from your breast to other organs through your lymph system or bloodstream. Often, breast cancer spreads when it gets into the lymph nodes under your arms (called axillary nodes). From there, it enters the lymphatic system, a collection of nodes and vessels that are part of your body's immune system.

Once the cancer has reached other organs, it forms new tumors.

Metastatic breast cancer can also start months or years after you've finished treatment for an earlier-stage cancer. This is called a distant recurrence.

Treatments like surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy are good at removing or killing cancer cells. But sometimes, they can leave a few cancer cells behind. Even a single cancer cell can grow into a new tumor that spreads to other parts of your body.

Where Breast Cancer Tends to Go

Breast cancer most often spreads to these organs:

Bones. Breast cancer travels to the bones through the bloodstream. The ribs, spine, pelvis, and long bones of the arms and legs are the most common bones that breast cancer reaches. Bone pain and tenderness are signs the cancer is in your bones. Breast cancer cells can also get into bone marrow -- the spongy tissue inside bones where blood cells are made.

Liver. Cancer cells can get into the liver through the bloodstream because the liver filters the blood.

Lungs. The lungs are another common site for metastatic breast cancer to spread because your blood flows through them to pick up oxygen.

Brain. Any type of breast cancer can spread to the brain, but HER2-positive and triple-negative cancers are most likely to reach this organ. Signs of cancer in the brain include headaches, seizures, vision changes, and dizziness.

WebMD Medical Reference

WebMD Voices

Sheila M.
Swansea, IL
People often tell me, “Well, you should do this or you should do that.” There’s no right or wrong answer on how we deal with this disease. I’ve learned to deal with it on my own terms and in my own way. I continue to let my faith guide me, and I continue to lean on my family and friends for support.
Mary G.
Oregon, WI
Bring a support person to your first appointment to take notes and listen. Learn all you can on reputable websites. Breathe. Gather your inner circle of supportive friends and lean on them. It’s OK to be mad as hell. There will be good and bad days. On bad days, think of the good ones just around the corner.
Sheila M.
Swansea, IL
For a very long time, I didn’t accept it. When I finally did, I stopped worrying about things that were beyond my control and I started enjoying life. Having MBC has given me a new purpose through my advocacy work with Metavivor’s Serenity Project. I want women to stand on my shoulders of hope and love.
Mary R.
Livonia, MI
I always feel better when I’m rested. I sleep 10-12 hours many days. Smiling and having a good sense of humor makes difficult situations better. I don’t worry about small things anymore. Meditation, music, and massages help. I also cope by coloring and sewing, when I have the energy.
Lisa B.
Coral Springs, FL
In addition to treatment, I do daily meditation, which calms my body as well as my mind. I find it to be very peaceful. I also find walking and yoga to be a form of relaxation -- and it’s healthy. I call it ‘doing my homework.’ The drugs are doing their job, and it’s my responsibility to take care of me.
Mary R.
Livonia, MI
When I was first diagnosed, I was in shock. Getting information helped. My husband and children helped by listening and allowing me to cry when I needed to. I also formed a support group at my hospital. Talking as a group and forming friendships is very helpful. We all know what each of us is going through.
Catriona M.
Canal Winchester, OH
Ask family and friends for help and support. It’s so easy to want to try to do it all, but people really do want to help you. You’ll need every ounce of strength you have, so let people bring meals and clean your house if they want to. For many, it’s how they show they love and care about you.
Suzanne K.
San Francisco, CA
Put your energy elsewhere, in a better place. I got involved with new challenges that inspired me. I joined a new company. I got involved with the Cashmere Foundation, which brings the spa experience to patients undergoing chemotherapy. I feel I’m able to pay back, or perhaps pay it forward, while helping others.
Lisa B.
Coral Springs, FL
Within the past 14 years, I’ve been on chemo and hormone therapy. The part that gives me hope is new drugs and therapies are more abundant then 20 years ago, with more to come. Every day, breast cancer is my shadow, but is not my life.
Linda L.
Saddle River, NJ
Be your own advocate. If you have a question for your doctor and don’t understand the answer, ask again. If it’s difficult to speak up, ask a relative or friend to go with you. If you’re not comfortable with your doctor or the treatment she recommends, get a second opinion.
Mary G.
Oregon, WI
Swimming helps my whole body relax and relieves my aching bones. Reaching and pulling strokes stretch out and massage my arm. Yoga keeps my breathing calmer, and I use techniques I learn in class to help me go to sleep at night.
Fabianna M.
Dover, NH
Celebrate small successes. It’s about progress towards wellness, not an all-or-nothing scenario. After surgery, it was a while before I could drive. The day I got back in the driver’s seat, I drove myself to the beach. I remember sitting on a bench for an hour, reveling in the joy of taking my life back.

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