Secondary Breast Cancer

What is secondary breast cancer?

Sometimes cancer cells can travel from the original tumour in the breast and spread to other parts of the body through the blood or lymph system. The organs that breast cancer usually spreads to are bone, liver or lungs.  When breast cancer spreads to other parts of the body, it can be treated but not cured. This type of cancer may be described as metastases, secondary’s or stage 4 breast cancer.

What investigations will I need?

You may have already had your investigations. If not you may need to have one or more of the following tests to confirm a diagnosis of secondary breast cancer or to stage the cancer (Staging means checking that there are no cancer cells anywhere else in your body).

CT (Computerised Tomography) scan

This is a type of scan that uses X- rays to take pictures across the body usually your, lungs, liver and bones

Bone scan

A bone scan looks for changes or abnormalities in the bones. A bone scan can look at a particular joint or bone. In cancer diagnosis, it is more usual to scan the whole body. The scan involves one injection but, apart from that, it is painless.

MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging)

An MRI Scan uses magnetism and radio waves to produce a series of pictures of inside the body. It can give more detailed information about soft tissue than a CT scan. An MRI is not painful but you will have to lie still for up to an hour.

Blood tests

Some people will have blood tests for tumour markers. These are proteins found in the blood that can give your doctor additional information about how you are responding to treatment.  Blood tests can also indicate if there is a change in the function of the liver.


You may be sent for an x-ray of your chest or of an area in the body where you are having symptoms. However cancer cells may not always show up on an X-ray.

What treatments might I be offered?

As well as treatments to relieve your symptoms you may also be offered treatments aimed at slowing down the growth of the cancer. Your treatment may include chemotherapy, Herceptin hormone therapy, bisphosphonates, radiotherapy or surgery.  


To help confirm which type of treatment will be beneficial, sometimes a small biopsy may be needed. This is when a small sample of tissue is taken. Your Doctor will confirm if this needed.

Who will manage my care?

Your oncologist will usually manage your care. If you have not met an oncologist your surgeon or GP will refer you to one at your closest hospital.


This involves the use of anti-cancer drugs to destroy cells. There are lots of different chemotherapy treatments and suitable treatments will be explained and discussed when you see the Oncology team.

‘Targeted’ Treatments

There are several types of ‘targeted’ treatments such as Herceptin and palbociclib which help stop the way cancer cells divide and grow, this depends on the type of breast cancer you have, this will be explained in detail by your oncologist.


Radiotherapy, which is the use of high energy X-rays to kill cancer cells, is sometimes used to treat symptoms caused by secondary breast cancer.

Hormonal/endocrine therapy

Hormone therapies are used to treat cancer that is stimulated to grow by the female hormone oestrogen (known as oestrogen receptor positive). If you have previously had hormone therapy, your doctor may prescribe the same tablet or change this to a new one, or in sometimes it is given by injection.


You may be prescribed one of the drugs if you have secondary bone cancer to reduce a high level calcium in your blood. This can be given in injection or tablet form.

Who do I contact for advice or support?    

You may have been given a BCN (Breast Care Nurse) or key worker when you were first diagnosed with breast cancer. You can initially contact them for advice or support. Also there are BCN’s who specialise in Oncology whom you can contact on the numbers below. You will meet one of these nurses at your Oncology appointments; 

QE –                             Oncology BCN Specialist  0191 445 3735

                                    Oncology BCN Specialist  0191 445 8353

South Tyneside           Oncology BCN Specialist  0191 445 2180

Macmillan nurses

Macmillan nurses give supportive care and advice to patients with cancer. This includes emotional, financial and practical support. A Macmillan nurse can be contacted via your GP, District Nurse, BCN or Oncologist. You can contact the Macmillan support line direct on 0808 808 0000 (Monday to Friday 9am-8pm). Visit

Breast Cancer Care

Breast cancer care is an organisation that offers practical advice and information. They also provide discussion forums, a confidential helpline chat and one to one support (Tel no 0808 800 6000). [email protected]

Cancer Connections (South Tyneside)

Offers emotional, financial and practical support including counselling and complementary therapies (Tel no 0191 4565081).

FACT (Fighting All Cancers Together)

FACT is a local charity based in Gateshead that offers support, advice and practical help to cancer patients and their families. (Tel no. 0191 4420833).

Coping with Cancer

Offers help and support (Tel no 0191 2805610)

Maggie’s (Freeman Hospital)

Offers practical, emotional and social support to people with cancer and their families. You can drop in to the centre Monday – Friday 9am-5pm (Tel no 01912336600) E mail [email protected]