Stage IV Breast Cancer Treatment Options

Medically Reviewed by Dany Paul Baby, MD on April 22, 2022
3 min read

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.

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. 

Fulvestrant (Faslodex) and toremifene (Fareston) are drugs that block hormone receptors.  These medicines are sometimes given to women with metastatic breast cancer. 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. Other targeted therapies for HER2-positive positive cancer that may be prescribed include ado-trastuzumab emtansine (Kadcyla), fam-trastuzumab deruxtecan-nxki (Enhertu), lapatinib (Tykerb), margetuximab (Margenza), neratinib (Nerlynx), or pertuzumab (Perjeta),

Abemaciclib (Verzenio), palbociclib (Ibrance), ribociclib (Kisqali) are targeted therapies that block certain proteins called CDKs and slow cancer growth. They are given in certain women who have hormone receptor positive and HER2-negative cancers.

A new Class of drugs called PARP inhibitors has been found to help women who are HER2-negative but who have BRCA mutated breast cancer. PARP inhibitors include olaparib (Lynparza) and talazoparib (Talzenna) and target a protein that helps cancer cells grow.

Immunotherapy drugs stimulate your immune system to find and destroy cancer cells.  In women with advanced hormone receptor negative and HER2-negative breast cancer the immunotherapy drug atezolizumab (Tecentriq) is sometimes given in combination with the chemotherapy paclitaxel (Abraxane). Atezolizumab blocks a protein called PD-L1.

Surgery and radiation are 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.

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