Stage IV Breast Cancer Treatment Options

With stage IV, the breast cancer has spread to other parts of your body. Often the bones, brain, lungs, or liver are affected. Because multiple areas may be involved, focused treatments like surgery or radiation alone may not be enough.

Treatment of stage IV doesn’t cure the disease. But by shrinking the cancer, it can often slow it down, help you feel better, and let you live longer. Patients with stage IV breast cancer may live for years, but it’s usually life-threatening at some point.

Treatments

Chemotherapy is often the main treatment for this stage. It can slow down the growth of the cancer. It’s often used in combination with hormone therapy.

You can get chemo several different ways. You may take pills or liquids, but often the drugs are put right into your veins. Depending on the type of treatment, it may be given in cycles that allow your body breaks in between.

Hormone therapy can be helpful for women with hormone receptor-positive cancers. That means certain hormones stimulate growth of the cancer. In these women, medications can prevent the tumor from getting the hormone. These drugs include tamoxifen for all women and aromatase inhibitors such as anastrozole (Arimidex), exemestane (Aromasin), and letrozole (Femara) for postmenopausal women. Aromatase inhibitors are sometimes taken with palbociclib (Ibrance) or ribociclib (Kisqali) that slow cancer cell growth. Abemacicblib (Verzenio) and palbociclib can be used with the hormone therapy fulvestrant (Faslodex)

Women who haven't reached menopause may consider having their ovaries removed to stop them from making hormones that help cancer grow.

Targeted therapy is a newer treatment. About 20% of women with breast cancer have too much of a protein known as HER2, and it makes the cancer spread quickly. Women with HER2-positive cancer that has spread often take trastuzumab (Herceptin). It stops the protein from making the cancer cells grow. It may also boost your immune system, giving it the strength to fight the cancer itself. Often, people combine this treatment with chemotherapy. Sometimes doctors prescribe another medication, pertuzumab (Perjeta), to take along with docetaxel (Taxotere) and trastuzumab.

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After other treatments, your doctor may prescribe lapatinib (Tykerb) to treat HER2-positive advanced breast cancer. People who were previously treated with trastuzumab and a class of chemotherapy drugs called taxanes may also take ado-trastuzumab emtansine (Kadcyla).

For postmenopausal women who have HER2-negative breast cancer and have tried other treatments for hormone-receptor positive cancer, the doctor may prescribe everolimus (Afinitor) along with exemestane.

Surgery and radiationare used in some cases. These treatments may help treat pain and other symptoms in areas where the cancer has spread.

Other drugs may help treat some of the side effects of breast cancer treatment, such as nausea and fatigue.

Clinical trials are open to many women with stage IV breast cancer. A clinical trial may give you access to cutting-edge treatments. Talk to your doctor to find out more about them.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD on November 11, 2017

Sources

SOURCES:

American Cancer Society: “How is breast cancer staged?” “Questions about chemotherapy.”

BreastCancer.org: “Palbociclib (Also Called Ibrance) Approved by FDA.”

National Comprehensive Cancer Network: Guidelines for Patients

National Cancer Institute: "Breast Cancer PDQ: Treatment Option Overview,” "Breast Cancer PDQ: Treatment, Health Professional Version," "Breast Cancer PDQ: Treatment, Patient Version," "Understanding Breast Cancer: A Guide for Patients," and "What You Need to Know about Breast Cancer," “Adjuvant and Neoadjuvant Therapy for Breast Cancer,” “FDA Approval of Everolimus.”

MedlinePlus: “Tamoxifen.”

Novartis Oncology.

National Breast Cancer Foundation: “Stages.”

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