Metastatic Breast Cancer: Prognosis & Treatment

Currently, there are over 150,000 women in the United States living with metastatic breast cancer. Metastatic breast cancer occurs when breast cancer cells spread to and infect other parts of the body. This form of breast cancer is also referred to as stage IV breast cancer and most commonly affects the lungs, brain, bones, and liver.

Metastatic breast cancer requires lifelong treatment that aims at controlling the disease, preventing it from further spreading, and increasing comfort and quality of life for the patient. Treatment for metastatic breast cancer is steadily increasing in its effectiveness. In 1970, only about 10% of people diagnosed with the disease lived for 5 years after their diagnosis. Today, about 40% of patients diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer 5 years ago are still living.


There is no standard prognosis for metastatic breast cancer. This disease affects all patients uniquely and each case requires different patient tailored treatment. Prognosis can depend on many factors including age, other health conditions, what types of tissue and organs the cancer has spread to, and more.

Common Treatments 

Treatment for metastatic breast cancer is different than treatment for early stage breast cancer because each treatment has different goals. Treatment for early stage breast cancer typically includes attacking and attempting to eradicate the disease from the body, while treatment for metastatic disease typically takes a similar approach as treating a chronic condition. Some of these treatments include:

  • Hormonal therapy – Hormonal therapy is used to treat metastatic breast cancer when the cancer is estrogen-receptor positive, meaning that estrogen promotes the growth of the cancer cells.
  • Chemotherapy – Like early stage breast cancer, utilizing chemotherapy may also be helpful in treating metastatic breast cancer. Chemotherapy treatments for metastatic breast cancer, however, may be less aggressive to protect patients against being overwhelmed by negative side effects for a prolonged period of time.
  • Bisphosphonates – Bisphosphonates are a type of drug administered to metastatic breast cancer patients whose disease has spread to their bones. This type of therapy works by slowing the cancer cells effect on the bones, and attempting to prevent the debilitating pain that comes along with this type of bone decay.

Metastatic breast cancer most commonly occurs in women who have been previously treated for an earlier stage breast cancer. It is important for women to make sure that they are up-to-date on their clinical breast exams, as well as performing regular self-exams in order to catch warning signs early and prevent the spread of this disease.


Jaime Venditti, State Coordinator, New York Health Works