Sometimes, breast cancer spreads to other parts of the body. This does not always happen, but when it does, it is known as metastatic breast cancer.
Metastatic breast cancer is treated differently than localized breast cancer. As a result, oncologists typically check for evidence of metastasis during the diagnostic/staging process. Additionally, breast cancer can spread after a patient has been diagnosed. To watch for potential signs of metastasis, patients are typically scheduled for frequent imaging scans during and after treatment.
How does breast cancer spread?
Breast cancer spreads when abnormal cells invade surrounding healthy tissues. In most cases, breast cancer first spreads to other parts of an affected breast, then to nearby lymph nodes. If cancerous cells make their way into the lymphatic system, they can then reach distant parts of the body.
The most common locations for metastatic breast tumors include the:
Even if breast cancer spreads to a distant organ, it is still classified as breast cancer. For instance, breast cancer that spreads to the lungs is considered to be metastatic breast cancer – not lung cancer.
Metastatic breast cancer treatment
When cancer has spread to other parts of the body, oncologists usually recommend systemic treatment, which can destroy abnormal cells in multiple locations. Depending on the specifics of a patient’s diagnosis, surgery may or may not be recommended.
Moffitt Cancer Center provides a complete range of breast cancer treatments through the Don & Erika Wallace Comprehensive Breast Program. This includes chemotherapy, radiation therapy and surgery, as well as immunotherapy, hormone therapy and supportive care. Patients with metastatic breast cancer may also consider enrolling in a clinical trial at Moffitt to expand their options even further.