Breast Cancer: Where Does It Spread? [Video]

  • Breast cancer that has spread to nearby lymph nodes and other parts of an affected breast is called metastatic breast cancer.
  • Breast cancer can spread to the lungs, liver, and even to the brain.
  • Metastatic Breast cancer that has spread may still be treatable.

“Metastasis” is a word used by doctors to refer to cancer that has spread. When someone has metastatic breast cancer, it means that cancer has affected other body parts beyond the breast.

Dr. Erin Roesch, an oncologist, tells us where breast cancer is most likely to spread and how the type of breast cancer can play a role.

How does breast cancer spread?

Breast cancer can affect the tissue surrounding the breast or travel to other body parts to settle and form a new tumor. Most cancer types can spread, depending on what type of breast cancer you’ve been diagnosed to have.

Here’s how breast cancer can spread:

  1. From your breast into the surrounding areas, like under your arm or close to your collarbone.
  2. To other areas of the body through your bloodstream.
  3. To other parts of your body through your lymph nodes.

Dr. Erin Roesch, an oncologist, says that type of breast cancer you have determines cancer’s growth pace and where it’s most likely to spread.

Where in the body does breast cancer spread?

Breast cancer can spread to any part of the body but most commonly affect the lymph nodes, lungs, and sometimes the brain. However, breast cancer that spreads to other areas is still considered breast cancer. For instance, if your breast cancer has spread to your lungs, it does not mean you have lung cancer.

If your breast cancer has spread, you might sometimes experience symptoms relating to the body part it has affected. Dr. Roesch explains how breast cancer can affect other body parts:

  • Lymph nodes. Breast cancer often spreads first to the underarm lymph nodes but may also travel into the tissue surrounding the breast, like the chest, collarbone, or lower neck. If breast cancer spreads beyond these glands, only then is it considered metastatic. Breast cancer that has spread to these areas may cause pain and swelling in the affected body parts.
  • Lungs. You may experience chest pain, shortness of breath, persistent cough, or cough up blood when your breast cancer has spread to your lungs. Cancer can also cause fluid to back up into your lungs when it has filled the space between your lungs and chest wall.
  • Liver. Cancer that has spread to your liver can cause stomach pain, bloating, swollen belly, feeling of fullness, appetite loss, nausea, vomiting, or jaundice.
  • Brain. Breast cancer that has affected the brain can make you experience headaches, dizziness, lightheadedness, vision changes, mental confusion or fog, and other neurological symptoms.
  • Bones. Breast cancer that has spread into your bones can cause bone aches, pain or tiredness, or a higher risk of bone fractures.

If your breast cancer has spread

Breast cancer that has spread to other body parts of your body can still be treated. If removing the cancer is no longer possible, treatment can help improve symptoms and extend survival.

Source: Cleveland Clinic