Metastatic or recurrent breast cancer

Metastatic breast cancer occurs when cancer cells travel from the breast, either through the bloodstream or the lymphatic system, to other parts of the body and continue to grow in their new location. Recurrent breast cancer occurs when breast cancer comes back in the breast or chest wall after treatment.

Metastatic breast cancer

Metastatic breast cancer can be present at the initial diagnosis or may occur months to years after treatment. Metastasis to areas near the breast—for example, the underarm (axillary) region—is called local or regional spread. Metastasis to other areas of the body, such as the bones, liver, or lungs, is called distant metastasis.

Recurrent breast cancer

Local recurrence indicates that breast cancer has returned to the breast after lumpectomy and radiation treatment or to the skin of the chest wall after mastectomy. Local recurrences of breast cancer are not considered metastatic. Regional recurrence usually means that the breast cancer has come back in nearby lymph nodes, such as under the arm (axillary lymph nodes) or in the neck (supraclavicular lymph nodes). Distant recurrence refers to breast cancer in other parts of the body, such as the liver, lungs, bones, or brain.

Treatment of metastatic or recurrent breast cancer depends on the following:

  • The extent of the spread of the breast cancer
  • The symptoms
  • The area of the body that is involved
  • Whether the cancer makes hormone receptors
  • Whether the cancer makes HER-2

Treatment may include surgery, chemotherapy or other medicines, and radiation therapy.

Last Updated: August 18, 2009

Author: Bets Davis, MFA

Medical Review: Joy Melnikow, MD, MPH - Family Medicine & Douglas A. Stewart, MD - Medical Oncology

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