Metastatic breast cancer

Metastatic breast cancer is cancer that originated in the breast and has spread to another part of the body. It is also called advanced breast cancer.

What is metastatic breast cancer?

Breast cancer is classified into five stages, 0 through 4. (Often the stages are stylized as Roman numerals, e.g. stage IV.) The stages are based on the size of the tumor, the number of lymph nodes involved, and how much the cancer has spread. When breast cancer spreads or becomes worse, this is known as progression.

Metastatic breast cancer refers to a cancer that has spread beyond the area of the breast, but into distant organs and tissues. ‘Locally advanced breast cancer’ or stage 3 breast cancer means the cancer has spread locally in the area of the breast. The most serious of the five possible stages are stages 3 and 4.

Today, there is an absence of definitive prognostic statistics and resources for those living with metastatic breast cancer. Every patient and their disease is unique, so treatment for metastatic breast cancer is life-long and focuses on control of the disease and quality of life.

Issues facing metastatic breast cancer patients

Approximately 30 percent of women and men diagnosed with breast cancer will at some point be diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer. While metastatic breast cancer can be treated, it currently cannot be cured.

This does not mean that those living with metastatic breast cancer cannot enjoy good quality of life! However, the needs and issues facing metastatic breast cancer patients are vastly different.

  • Breast cancer support groups are mostly composed of newly or recently diagnosed women and men, and people who have metastatic breast cancer often do not have much in common with them. Unfortunately, metastatic breast cancer support groups are few and far between.
  • Those living with metastatic breast cancer are in and out of treatment, hoping that their cancer will stop its progression so they have a decent quality of life. Therefore, they need ongoing help both accessing and navigating the healthcare and cancer care system.
  • Metastatic breast cancer patients need timely access to new treatments and clinical trials so that additional treatment options are available to them.
  • Metastatic breast cancer patients and their families need ease of connection to accurate, updated clinical information, improved access to clinical trials, and readily available psychosocial support.

More education is needed women diagnosed, those completing treatment for primary breast cancer and the general public about the signs and symptoms of metastatic breast cancer.

Help the Canadian Cancer Survivor Network raise awareness of the unmet needs of women living metastatic breast cancer. Contact us at to get involved:

  • Tell your story if you are living with metastatic breast cancer.
  • Tweet, post on Facebook, or share information about your website relating to metastatic breast cancer.
  • Join CCSN’s Breast Cancer Advisory Council (email

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