Breast Cancer Metastasis

One of the worst things that a breast cancer patient can hear is that their cancer has metastasized to another part of the body. Metastatic cancer will always be classified as the original cancer despite where it has metastasized to. Historically, the treatment for metastatic breast cancer was limited, but there are now more options for treatment of metastasis.

The most common places for breast cancer cells to metastasize are the liver, lungs and bones. The lungs are the most frequently involved but cancer cells can enter the bloodstream and travel to any location in the body, including the brain. Breast cancer typically spreads via the lymphatics prior to entering the bloodstream, which is why the lymph nodes in the armpit area are usually sampled for cancer during treatment.1

Identifying Risks

Research has identified specific genetic and hormonal receptor markers that are linked to a high risk of developing metastatic cancer. These factors have changed management of breast cancer, in that treatment for potential metastasis is considered while treating the primary cancer.2 Other research has discovered the existence of small non-coding pieces of genetic material within cells, called microRNA, that have important functions throughout the lifespan of a cell. These microRNAs give very specific information about the nature of an individual’s cancer, profiling how extensive and aggressive it is, which will in turn affect treatment.3

Symptoms of Metastasis

Most patients have no obvious symptoms of metastatic cancer but must rely on radiographic imaging to make the diagnosis. This can be done with a computed tomography (CT), positron emission tomography (PET) or magnetic resonance imagining (MRI) scan. Some patients do have general symptoms such as pain, weight loss, fatigue or symptoms that are specific to the site of metastasis. The size and the location of the metastasis will determine the symptoms that occur as a result.

Fear of Metastasis

The fear of having or even developing metastatic breast cancer can decrease the quality of life for breast cancer patients and survivors. Patients may feel that they did not have adequate treatment if this occurs, that further treatment is hopeless and that they just do not desire to have any more treatment. One of the best ways to overcome this is to make sure you have a great support system. Join a breast cancer support group and talk to others that have been through your situation. Educate yourself about your options. Whatever you do, don’t give up!


1 Metastatic Cancer. (n.d.). Retrieved from National Insitiute of Cancer:

2 Weigelt, B., Peterse, J. L., & van’t Veer, L. J. (2005). Breast cancer metastasis: markers and models. Nature Reviews Cancer , 591-602.

3 Tavazoie, S. F., Alarcon, C., Oskarsson, T., et al. (2008). Endogenous human microRNAs that suppress breast cancer metastasis. Nature , 147-152.

This article was originally published on July 27,2012 and last revision and update of it was 9/2/2015.