Metastatic breast cancer occurs when the cancer spreads from the breast to another part of the body. Symptoms and treatment for this stage of breast cancer are different to those of the earlier stages.
Doctors may also refer to metastatic breast cancer as advanced breast cancer or stage 4 breast cancer.
Many people live for months or years after a healthcare professional has diagnosed metastatic breast cancer. Treatment can help a person live longer and slow down the progression of the cancer.
As a person with metastatic breast cancer approaches the end of life, their treatment approach might shift to palliative care.
The aim of palliative care is to improve quality of life. Palliative care helps a person cope with end-of-life symptoms and focuses on the physical, emotional, and spiritual comfort and well-being of the person and their loved ones.
In this article, we discuss the end-of-life symptoms and care for people with metastatic breast cancer. We also look at the 5-year survival rates for this stage of breast cancer.
Symptoms of metastatic breast cancer
When metastatic breast cancer stops responding to treatment, the focus may shift to end-of-life care.
The symptoms of metastatic breast cancer are different to those of early-stage breast cancer. This is because the cancer has spread to other organs and is affecting other body systems, as well as the affected breast.
Most of the time, metastatic breast cancer affects the bones, lungs, brain, or liver.
Having one or more of the following symptoms does not mean that a person has metastatic breast cancer. However, anyone who experiences these symptoms should see a doctor for an evaluation.
Bone metastasis symptoms
Metastatic breast cancer most commonly spreads to the bones. Symptoms of bone metastasis include:
- pain in the bones or joints, which may be constant or become worse with activity
- back or neck pain
- increased risk of bone fractures
- numbness or weakness in certain areas of the body
- trouble urinating
- lack of appetite
- extreme thirst