How does secondary breast cancer develop?

What is secondary breast cancer?

Secondary breast cancer occurs when breast cancer cells spread from the first (primary) tumour in the breast through the lymphatic or blood system to other parts of the body. You will most commonly hear this referred to as metastatic breast cancer, advanced breast cancer, secondary tumours or secondaries.

When breast cancer spreads, for example to the bones, it is called secondary breast cancer. The cells that make up the tumour in those bones are breast cancer cells. This is very different from having primary bone cancer. The difference between primary and secondary cancer is important for treatment. The treatment for secondary

breast cancer in the bone is designed to treat breast cancer, while the treatment for primary bone cancer is designed to treat bone cancer.

Dorothy Stokes and Kay Taylor 29Sometimes secondary breast cancer is diagnosed at the same time as primary breast cancer, or it may be diagnosed without an earlier diagnosis of primary breast cancer. The most common parts of the body to which breast cancer spreads are the bones, the liver and the lungs. It can also spread to the brain, although this is less common.

A diagnosis of secondary breast cancer means that the cancer cannot be cured, but often it can be controlled, sometimes for many years.

The aim of treatment for secondary breast cancer is to keep you as well as possible for as long as possible. One of the first things that people often want to know when they get their diagnosis is how long they have to live. This is difficult to predict as each person is an individual and no two cancers behave in the same way. Your specialist will have an understanding of the likely progress of your secondary breast cancer and can talk to you about what you might expect.

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