When breast cancer spreads from the breast or armpit to other areas of the body, it is called secondary breast cancer. It can also be called metastatic breast cancer and advanced breast cancer.

How does secondary breast cancer develop?

Secondary breast cancer occurs when cancer cells from your breast travel through your blood stream, lymph system or body cavities to other areas of your body. If they settle in a new area – such as your lungs – they can form a new tumour there.

This is called a secondary tumour (or simply a ‘secondary’). It can also be called a metastatic tumour or metastasis. These tumours are made of breast cancer cells.

Where can secondary tumours occur?

Common places where breast cancer cells can move to and grow are the:

  • Bone
  • Liver
  • Lung
  • Brain

Other places where secondaries can occur include the bowel, adrenal glands, skin, ovary, and other organs.

Can secondary breast cancer be cured?

There is currently no cure for secondary breast cancer, but new advancements are being made and the growth of secondaries can often be controlled with treatments.

With the latest treatments, some people with secondary breast cancer may live for many years. If you’d like to know how long treatments might control your cancer for, your treatment team can explain this for you.

Equally, if you’d rather not have this information, let your treatment team know so they can respect your choice.

Be aware that it’s hard to predict how someone’s cancer will progress. Your treatment team will be able to give you estimates only.

Watch our video about secondary breast cancer:

Information Standard

Information last reviewed: October 2015

Next review due: October 2018

Breast Cancer Now's health information is covered by NHS England's Information Standard quality mark. Find out how this resource was developed.