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Metastatic breast cancer

If your first diagnosis of breast cancer is metastatic breast cancer, this has undoubtedly come as a huge shock to you. Many people describe this time as overwhelming, feeling they are being constantly bombarded with new information each time they go to hospital or see their doctors.

Sometimes people are found to have metastatic breast cancer when they are first diagnosed with breast cancer. This is called ‘de novo’ metastatic breast cancer, meaning their breast cancer is metastatic from the start. This is not common – about one in 20 women diagnosed with breast cancer will have metastatic breast cancer from the start.

The information this page is designed to help you make sense of all of the information being given to you. It is also designed to provide you with a basic understanding of breast cancer and what it means when it has spread to another part of the body. It has been written with the input of women who, like you, have been diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer from the start.

This page also contains tips to help you navigate the health system and learn about other ways that women have coped to help you understand that you are not alone.

How having metastatic from the start might influence treatment

There are some advantages for women diagnosed with de novo metastatic breast cancer compared to women who have progressed following an early breast cancer. The main advantage is that their cancer is ‘treatment naïve’, meaning it has not previously been exposed to any anti-cancer treatments and is therefore likely to be more responsive to treatment. There have been some reports of small numbers of women who may even be cured from metastatic breast cancer in this circumstance. In addition, there are more treatment options available than for those who have received previous treatment for early breast cancer who may have already ’used up’ some of their options.

The one positive was that my oncologist said that he more or less had an open book of treatments that he could offer me.

Another positive that women sometimes describe is that they can feel the cancer in their breast getting smaller once treatments starts. Mammograms and breast ultrasounds may be used as a way of checking that the cancer in the breast is responding to treatment. Many women find this reassuring, knowing that the treatment they are having is working for them.

Read more about treatments