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Metastatic Breast Cancer - Statistics, Diagnosis, Treatment Options

Expert Answers to Common Questions - Dr. William Gradishar


Updated June 02, 2014

What is metastatic breast cancer?
Metastatic breast cancer is diagnosed when cells from the original breast tumor have spread beyond your breast to other parts of your body. Even if cancer cells from your breast migrate through your blood stream or lymph system to the lungs, bones, brain, liver, or skin, it is still called breast cancer. Metastatic breast cancer is also called metastatic disease, and is classed as Stage 4 cancer.

I asked Dr. William Gradishar, an oncologist at Feinberg School Medicine at Northwestern University in Chicago, about statistics and treatment for metastatic breast cancer. Here is what he wrote:

Statistics About Metastatic Breast Cancer
It is estimated that nearly 155,000 women in the U.S. are currently living with metastatic breast cancer and this number is projected to increase to nearly 162,000 by the year 2011. Twenty to 30% of all women first diagnosed with cancer limited to the breast eventually develop it elsewhere.

What are my options for treatment of metastatic breast cancer?
If you are diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer, take the time you need to gather information. It is important that a patient work with her doctor and oncology team to determine the appropriate course of treatment. While there is no cure for metastatic breast cancer, treatment options are available. Overall, treatment of metastatic breast cancer focuses on extending a woman’s life and maintaining the best quality of life possible.

Treatments include:

  • Hormone therapy - blocks the effect of estrogen or reduces estrogen levels to reduce the growth of breast cancer cells throughout the body
  • Biological or Novel targeted therapy - targets cancer cells with certain biologic therapy features
  • Radiation therapy - penetrating beams of high-energy to kill and hinder the growth of cancer cells
  • Surgery - may be used in special situations to remove the primary tumor, or a metastatic site and to ease symptoms. Surgery is rarely used to treat metastatic breast cancer because cancer cells are no longer in only one place.
  • Chemotherapy - the use of drugs to destroy cancer cells, particularly those that have spread to areas other than the breast.
    Chemotherapy is an effective way to treat breast cancer and is often recommended for most women with breast cancer, particularly women with metastatic breast cancer.


    Personal correspondence with Dr. William Gradishar, October 16, 2007.

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