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Secondary (metastatic) breast cancer

Secondary breast cancer occurs when breast cancer cells spread from the first (primary) tumour in the breast through the lymphatic or blood system to other parts of the body.

This is also referred to as metastases, advanced breast cancer, secondary tumours, secondaries or stage 4 breast cancer.

When breast cancer spreads, for example to the bones, it is called secondary breast cancer in the bone. The cells in the bone are breast cancer cells.

Usually secondary breast cancer is diagnosed some time after the primary breast cancer, but sometimes it is diagnosed at the same time as the primary breast cancer or on rare occasions before the primary breast cancer has been diagnosed.

A diagnosis of secondary breast cancer means that the cancer can be treated but it can’t be cured. The aim is to control and slow down the spread of the disease, to relieve  symptoms and to give you the best possible quality of life, for as long as possible. There are many treatments that can keep the cancer under control, often for many years.

Your specialist will be able to tell you about the likely progress of your cancer, and what you might expect.

Content last reviewed December 2012; next planned review 2014