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A doctor talk to a woman about metastatic breast cancer

Metastatic breast cancer is a secondary cancer—the cancerous cells originate in breast tissue and then travel to other parts of the body. The most common areas of breast cancer metastasis are the bones, lungs and liver. Following an initial breast cancer diagnosis, a patient will receive a personalized monitoring plan for metastatic reoccurrence from their care team.

How long does it take breast cancer to metastasize?

Because breast cancer growth rates can vary depending on a number of different factors, it’s difficult to estimate exactly how long it will take the malignancy to spread to other parts of the body. For example, the breast cancers that are present in younger patients are often more aggressive than those found in older individuals. Plus, certain types of breast cancer tend to be more aggressive than others, including HER2-positive breast cancer and triple-negative breast cancer (TNBC).

After a patient is diagnosed with breast cancer, their physician can provide them with a more accurate estimate of how quickly they can expect their malignancy to grow. The provider can also recommend treatments and other steps the patient can take to slow down the cancer’s progression as much as possible.

Signs and symptoms breast cancer has spread

Once breast cancer metastasizes, it can begin producing symptoms in that distant area of the body. As such, additional signs and symptoms of metastatic breast cancer will vary depending on where the malignancy has spread to and which organs it’s affecting.

Symptoms of breast cancer in the bones

Although metastatic breast cancer can potentially occur in any bone in the body, it most often affects the ribs, spine, pelvis and long bones in the arms and legs. Breast cancer that has spread to the bones may cause:

  • Sudden bone pain, such as hip or back pain, which may feel similar to the discomfort associated with arthritis or exercise strain but is persistent or progressively worse even with rest or conservative measures
  • An increased risk of bone fractures that result from minimal trauma, such as a minor fall
  • An elevated level of calcium in the blood, which can lead to fatigue, nausea, dehydration and loss of appetite
  • Numbness or muscle weakness in an arm or leg

Symptoms of breast cancer in a lung

Breast cancer that has moved into a lung may cause:

  • Pain in the affected lung
  • Wheezing and shortness of breath
  • Persistent coughing and other symptoms similar to those produced by the common cold and flu
  • Coughing up mucus or blood

Symptoms of breast cancer in the liver

Breast cancer that has traveled to the liver may cause:

  • Pain or swelling under the ribs, in the midsection or near the right shoulder
  • Loss of appetite
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Persistent hiccups
  • A yellowing of the eyes or skin (jaundice)
  • Confusion or drowsiness
  • Anemia
  • Overwhelming fatigue

Discuss your symptoms with a specialist at Moffitt

If you’ve been diagnosed with breast cancer and are experiencing symptoms of metastasis, you are encouraged to consult with a specialist in the Don & Erika Wallace Comprehensive Breast Program at Moffitt Cancer Center. Our multispecialty team includes fellowship-trained surgeons, medical oncologists, pathologists, fellowship-trained radiologists, radiation oncologists, plastic surgeons and breast reconstruction experts, social workers, fertility preservation specialists and genetic testing and counseling specialists, all of whom work together to provide patients with a highly individualized care experience.

Request an appointment at Moffitt Cancer Center by calling 1-888-663-3488 or completing a new patient registration form online. We do not require referrals, and we’ll connect you to a cancer expert in just one day. We understand how stressed you may be feeling, but you can rest easy knowing that your diagnosis and treatment are our top priorities.

Medically reviewed by Dr. Hatem Soliman, medical oncologist, Breast Cancer Program

References Metastatic Breast Cancer