Signs and symptoms of secondary breast cancer

This page contains information about secondary breast cancer, which is breast cancer that has spread to another part of the body. For other information see breast cancer symptoms.


Many of the signs and symptoms of secondary breast cancer are similar to those of other conditions.

It’s difficult to list all of them, but some symptoms to be aware of include:

  • pain in your bones (for example in the back, hips or ribs) that doesn’t improve with pain relief or lasts for more than one to two weeks and is often worse at night
  • unexplained weight loss and a loss of appetite
  • constant nausea (feeling sick)
  • discomfort or swelling under the ribs or across the upper abdomen
  • feeling constantly tired
  • a dry cough or a feeling of breathlessness
  • severe or ongoing headaches
  • altered vision or speech.

Download a quick guide to the signs and symptoms of secondary breast cancer.

Reporting symptoms

If you’ve had treatment for primary breast cancer, the important thing is that you tell your breast care nurse or doctor if you have any symptoms that are:

  • new
  • don’t have an obvious cause
  • don’t go away.

Your doctor may investigate the many possible causes of your symptoms.

Worried about breast cancer spreading?

It’s natural to worry about secondary breast cancer, which happens if breast cancer cells have spread from the first (primary) cancer in the breast to other parts of the body.

While it’s important to get any new and persistent symptoms checked, remember that aches and pains in the bones can be due to ageing, arthritis or side effects of treatment for primary breast cancer. Breathlessness and a cough can be symptoms of a cold or flu-type illness. And many people experience tiredness and loss of appetite after cancer treatment.

Whatever your worry or concern, our free Helpline is here to offer support and answer your questions. Call 0808 800 6000.

Last reviewed: July 2016
Next planned review begins 2018

Let us know what you think

Please note that we cannot respond to comments. If you have any questions about breast cancer please contact the Helpline on 0808 800 6000.