Further Background Information

1. What is Metastatic Breast Cancer?

Metastatic breast cancer, also known as Stage IV breast cancer, is cancer that has spread outside of the breast to other areas such as the bones, liver, lung or brain. This process is called metastasis. (Pronounced as Me-TAS-ta-sis)

2. What happens when breast cancer spreads?

Breast cancer that spreads to the bones, lung, or liver, is still breast cancer and does not become bone cancer or liver cancer or lung cancer.  Under a microscope, the tumour cells will still look and act like breast cancer and will be treated as breast cancer.

3. Who gets metastatic breast cancer?

No one brings metastatic disease on themselves. The sad truth is that anyone who has had an earlier stage of breast cancer can experience a metastatic recurrence and some women have metastatic disease on their initial diagnosis of cancer–despite mammograms and early detection.

4. Why does breast cancer metastasize? (Pronounced as Me-TAS-ta-size)

A cancer recurrence occurs when breast cancer cells reappear in the area around the breast (local or regional recurrence) or in other areas of the body (distant metastasis).  For the most part, these are those microscopic tumour cells that presumably ‘escaped’ before a diagnosis and hid, somehow protected, from the systemic therapies received. Then after a long while, conditions change and these cells wake up from their hibernation and begin doubling again.

5. What is the main difference between early-stage breast cancer and metastatic breast cancer?

Metastatic breast cancer is treatable but no longer curable. Treatment is lifelong and focuses on preventing further spread of the disease and managing symptoms. The goal is for patients to live a good quality of life for as long as possible.

6. How is metastatic breast cancer treated?

Depending primarily on the kind or subtype of metastatic breast cancer, patients may be on either targeted therapies or systemic chemotherapy. Radiation and surgery are also sometimes used.

7. How many people are living with metastatic breast cancer in Ireland?

According to previously unpublished NCRI (National Cancer Registry of Ireland) statistics, there are approximately 950 female breast cancer survivors alive at 31/12/20 who had originally been diagnosed with distant metastatic breast cancer during 1994-2020. [These are the most recent figures available as part of NCRI reporting structures]

8. Is metastatic breast cancer a chronic disease?

Not yet, but that is an important goal. As researchers identify more and better treatments, metastatic breast cancer could become a chronic disease like diabetes or HIV/AIDS, where patients can be stable on medications several years or longer.

9. What is National Metastatic Breast Cancer Awareness Day?

October 13th is International Metastatic Breast Cancer Awareness Day.

10. Do young women get metastatic breast cancer?

YES. Women and men of all age groups can get breast cancer and in some cases metastatic breast cancer can affect younger women & men.

11. How is metastatic breast cancer monitored?

Usually, metastatic breast cancer is monitored by periodic imaging tests (CT, PET or bone scans or MRIs), blood tests measuring tumour markers and assessment of how the patient is feeling.