Secondary breast cancer

There are about 36,000 people living with secondary breast cancer in the UK. This is when breast cancer cells have spread to other parts of the body, most commonly to the bones, liver, lungs or brain.

Secondary breast cancer is incurable but it can be treated and controlled, sometimes for years. But the care of people with secondary breast cancer is often inadequate.

Even though 90% of people report pain as a result of their secondary breast cancer, 41% have never been referred to palliative care.

Breast Cancer Care Survey, 2014
  • Few people with secondary breast cancer have access to a clinical nurse specialist as part of their care.
  • Many people are living with unnecessary pain because they are not being referred to a palliative care team for pain management or they have not taken up referral.
  • Care is often fragmented because hospital multidisciplinary teams are not discussing secondary breast cancer.

These problems are largely because the NHS doesn’t have enough information to plan and commission services that meet the needs of people living with secondary breast cancer. We don’t have accurate figures on how many people have the diagnosis or clear information about how it progressively affects their quality of life. This is despite it now being mandatory for hospitals in England to collect data on secondary breast cancer. There is currently no requirement for hospitals in Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland to do so.

What we want

  • Robust data on secondary breast cancer to be collected throughout the UK to help plan and commission services effectively. 
  • Everyone living with secondary breast cancer to have access to and support from a clinical nurse specialist with expertise and experience of secondary breast cancer. 
  • Properly integrated oncology and palliative care services so that referrals for pain management are made at the point of diagnosis or soon after.

How you can help

Contact your MP

Please contact your MP to urge them to write to the Health Secretary about secondary breast cancer, calling for changes to ensure that everyone can get the care and support they need.

Take action now

There are also summary documents for England, Scotland and Wales.

Contact the Policy and Campaigns team at

The secondary breast cancer pledge

We know that many people with secondary breast cancer often face inadequate care. That’s why Breast Cancer Care and Breast Cancer Now are working together to help individual hospitals improve the care and support for people living with secondary breast cancer.

We’re talking to people with secondary breast cancer to help us really understand what’s working well and where changes could make a big difference to the care they receive. We’re also talking to doctors and nurses to help plan improvements that will allow individual hospitals to achieve the best possible standards of care for everyone affected by secondary breast cancer.

We’re committed to making sure people with secondary breast cancer get the best care possible.

For more information about the secondary breast cancer pledge, please contact Sylvia Ward, UK Wide Services Manager at

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