Metastatic Breast Cancer: Diagnosis and Treatment

Metastatic breast cancer is cancer that originated in the breast and has spread to other organ systems in the body. Women may have metastatic disease at the time of their initial diagnosis or in the months or years following a diagnosis of localized breast cancer. As is true with localized breast cancer, metastasis and its meaning to your health depend on many factors.

The following factors are important for making decisions on treatment:

  • Where the metastasis is
  • What symptoms you are experiencing
  • What prior treatments you have had
  • All of the information about your breast cancer's biology

The most common sites of spread beyond local breast cancer are bone, lung, liver and brain.

Learning of a diagnosis of metastatic disease is often accompanied by fear, uncertainty and difficulty with treatment decision making. While we have no treatments guaranteed to cure metastatic breast cancer, many women live many years with courage, tenacity and hope, treating breast cancer as a chronic illness and responding variably to systemic therapies.

In addition to standard recommended treatments — about which there might be differing medical opinions — there are numerous clinical trials that may be relevant to each woman's situation. There are newer therapies under investigation for metastatic breast cancer using new chemotherapy drug or older drugs in combination with new hormonal therapies. There is rich innovation in the arena of preventing further metastases (antiangiogenesis), vaccine research, alternative delivery systems for older chemotherapy agents and interruption of the genetic "turning on" of breast cancer development. Each woman reacts differently, but it is generally true that women need both information and emotional support and benefit greatly from advocacy on their behalf.

The team of doctors and health care providers at the UCSF Carol Franc Buck Breast Care Center will work with you individually to address your personal medical concerns and to determine a treatment plan that meets your medical needs. In addition, the Breast Care Center and the UCSF Cancer Resource Center offer support and wellness services to help you manage the emotional and lifestyle challenges that you may face.


Reviewed by health care specialists at UCSF Medical Center.

This information is for educational purposes only and is not intended to replace the advice of your doctor or health care provider. We encourage you to discuss with your doctor any questions or concerns you may have.