Secondary breast cancer is sometimes called advanced breast cancer or metastatic breast cancer. If you, or someone you care about has been diagnosed with secondary breast cancer it can come as a great shock.
We hope information, stories and messages in this section from others living with secondary breast cancer give you hope and inspiration, and help you to learn more about living with secondary breast cancer.
What is secondary breast cancer?
Secondary breast cancer occurs if cancer spreads from the original site in the breast to more distant parts of the body. It is most likely to be found in the bones, liver or lungs, although sometimes it can be found in the brain or other areas. It may affect one or more location at the same time. (Note: Cancer in lymph nodes near the breast is not secondary breast cancer).
Although a cure for secondary breast cancer has not yet been found, it can be controlled, often for many years. For women who respond well to treatment it can be managed like a chronic illness, flaring up from time to time, with extended periods of wellness in between.
'I regard dealing with my secondary breast cancer in my liver and spine as similar to living with a chronic disease such as diabetes. I take my nightly Femara tablet, endure my monthly infusion of Zometa, and for the rest of the time I get on with my life.' -- Marlene
Once diagnosed with secondary breast cancer, your initial reaction might be 'how long do I have to live?' This is difficult to answer, as every woman's experience is different and cannot be accurately predicted. Treatments are continuolly improving and many women live for many years.
'I was diagnosed with secondary breast cancer fourteen years ago. There are a few parts of me that are now slower, but generally I'm doing well.' -- Jenny
Terminology for secondary breast cancer
The original cancer in the breast is known as 'primary' or 'early' breast cancer. There are many terms used for secondary breast cancer. They include advanced breast cancer, metastatic breast cancer, secondary tumours, metastatic disease, secondaries, and stage 4 breast cancer.
How does secondary breast cancer develop?
Secondary breast cancer most commonly develops when some cells from the original cancer in the breast travel to other parts of the body through the blood or lymphatic system and develop into a new cancer. This new cancer is still known as breast cancer even though it is in a different part of the body.
Unfortunately even the best treatment for breast cancer doesn't always remove every cell. Sometimes cancer cells start to travel around the body before the tumour in the breast is found and treated. Sometimes secondary breast cancer may be diagnosed at the same time as the primary breast cancer. For some women, their first diagnosis may be a secondary breast cancer, although this is not common.
- You can order BCNA's free resource, Hope & Hurdles, which is a comprehensive information resource especially for women diagnosed with secondary breast cancer.
- Subscribe to The Inside Story - BCNA's free, quarterly magazine for women living with secondary breast cancer, which accompanies The Beacon magazine.
- The Cancer Australia website has more information about secondary breast cancer.
- News and resources for women with secondary breast cancer.
- The personal stories section has stories by women living with secondary breast cancer.
- You can also join BCNA's online network if you think that talking to others in a similar situation will help.