Treating secondary breast cancer in the bone

You will be offered treatments aimed at slowing down the growth of the cancer, as well as treatments to relieve your symptoms.

Treatment offered for secondary breast cancer in the bone will depend on a number of factors. These include:

  • your symptoms
  • whether or not you have had your menopause
  • the type of cancer you had originally
  • treatments you have had in the past
  • your general health.

Your specialist team will discuss your treatment options with you and help you weigh up the potential benefits against the possible side effects and explain what the aim of the treatment will be for you.

Radiotherapy 

The aim of radiotherapy is to reduce pain and prevent further spread to the area affected.

Radiotherapy is usually given as a single dose or divided doses over a few days. This means that the side effects are likely to be minimal. Radiotherapy is usually given only once to an affected area. Radiotherapy carries on working after the treatment has finished, so you may not feel the benefits until a couple of weeks later. 

Radioisotopes

This is another way of giving radiotherapy, although it is rarely used for secondary breast cancer in the bone. A radioisotope is given in a liquid form as an injection into the vein. The radioisotope travels through the bloodstream and delivers radiotherapy to the bones affected by the cancer cells. It is sometimes useful when there are several areas of cancer throughout the body.

Vertebroplasty

This is a newer treatment and is not commonly used. Other treatments are usually tried first.

If the secondary breast cancer is causing severe back pain and damage to the bones in the spine, you may be able to have an injection of bone cement into the bones to stabilise and strengthen them, and to relieve pain. This is called a vertebroplasty and is done in the x-ray department. It takes about an hour and you can usually go home later that day. 

Bisphosphonates

Bisphosphonates can strengthen existing bone and reduce the damage caused by the secondary breast cancer in the bone. They can also help to control calcium levels in the blood. Read more about how bisphosphonates are given and their side effects.

Denosumab (Xgeva)

Denosumab is a targeted therapy and is one of a group of cancer drugs called monoclonal antibodies. It is used for the treatment of secondary breast cancer in the bone. Read more about how denosumab is given and its side effects.

Surgery

Orthopaedic surgery (which involves the muscles and the bones)  may be considered either to treat a fracture, or to try to stabilise a bone that has become weakened due to the cancer.

Sometimes surgery is also a treatment option for spinal cord compression – this type of surgery is called decompression surgery.

Other treatments

Hormone therapies, chemotherapy and other targeted therapies can also be used to treat secondary breast cancer in the bone.

Last reviewed: April 2015
Next planned review begins 2017

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.

Related Publication