Secondary breast cancer
Secondary breast cancer is also called metastatic, advanced or stage 4 breast cancer. It is the main cause of all breast cancer-related deaths.
Breast cancer cells from the initial tumour can be carried in the blood and lymphatic system to other areas of the body where they may grow into secondary breast cancer tumours. The bones, liver, lungs and brain are the most common sites of secondary tumours. Cancer spread can be tested for using a variety of scans such as MRI, ultrasound or CT scans or biopsies.
Symptoms of secondary breast cancer vary, depending on where in the body the secondary tumours are growing. In the UK, 6-7% of people find out that they have secondary breast cancer at their first breast cancer diagnosis. More information about symptoms can be found on this infographic.
There is currently no cure for secondary breast cancer, and treatment is given to manage the symptoms. Treatment will depend on the type of breast cancer and any previous treatment received.
Our approach – Investing in new research
We fund research to address the diagnostic and treatment challenges posed in the metastatic breast cancer field. We hope to increase the survival rates of all breast cancer patients and have identified three key areas for investigation: prevention, detection and therapies.
Prevention: Understanding Risk of Secondary Spread Associated with Diet & Lifestyle
More evidence is needed to determine the impact of diet and lifestyle factors on risk of recurrence and metastasis in primary breast cancer survivors. Against Breast Cancer fund research to identify which modifiable diet and lifestyle factors increase, reduce or do not impact the risk of recurrence and secondary spread of breast cancer. We aim to provide evidence-based advice to clinicians, patients and support centres.
Detection: Earlier Diagnosis of Secondary Breast Cancer
There is currently no reliable diagnostic test to monitor breast cancer patients for metastasis following primary breast cancer treatment. We fund research to discover biomarkers in blood or urine which indicate breast cancer metastases before any symptoms are experienced for the development of new diagnostic tests. The detection of aberrant glycosylation for monitoring and diagnosis of breast cancer metastasis is a focus for our charity research activities.
Against Breast Cancer envisage a future where breast cancer patients can be monitored for metastases using a home blood or urine test kit to reduce hospital visits and provide peace of mind through regular screening.
Therapies: New Treatments and Vaccination
There is currently no cure for secondary breast cancer and resistance to treatments can develop or be inherent to the breast cancer type. Ideally, any new treatment or vaccine developed by Against Breast Cancer should have as wide an application as possible, but it is recognised that secondary spread of different types of breast cancer may require different treatments and strategies. Identification of aberrantly glycosylated targets on metastatic breast cancer cells and the possible role of anti-glycan antibodies in the progression and control of breast cancer are a research focus for us.
Living with secondary spread
“It can help to think of metastatic breast cancer as a long-term illness, such as diabetes, that has to be managed, rather than a short-term condition, like a cold, that can be cured.” breastcancer.org
Whilst there may be no cure for secondary spread, it doesn’t mean you can’t carry on to live your life whilst the disease is being managed. Since being told her cancer had spread, Against Breast Cancer’s sport ambassador Karen has run several marathons, including the London Marathon, taken part in Ultra Challenge events as well as help organise running and walking events in her local area.
Victoria had also ran the London Marathon for Against Breast Cancer before she was diagnosed with secondary spread. Left barely able to walk, she bravely fought back, working on an exercise bike before walking, and before too long she was able to do couch to 5k and take part in Park Runs.