After primary treatment, Laura armed herself with knowledge of secondary breast cancer and its signs. 10 years later, she noticed symptoms and pushed for the checks she needed.
After primary breast cancer, were you told about secondary and what to look out for?
I don’t recall my hospital team ever telling me the signs of secondary breast cancer. I decided to educate myself through websites like Breast Cancer Now, so I knew what to look out for.
Which symptoms of secondary did you notice?
After being healthy for almost 10 years, I started experiencing symptoms in late 2021. The skin on my chest above my sternum bone felt tender to the touch, like a bruise. With what I knew from my research, I was immediately concerned that this pain in my bones could be secondary breast cancer.
How did your secondary diagnosis come about?
I called my hospital helpline about the symptoms, but I’d just had my annual MRI, and there was nothing sinister of note, so they just told me to monitor it. As I’d recently changed drugs, they hoped it might be hormonal symptoms.
But the pain worsened and I sometimes felt sharp pain when breathing in. I called the helpline and had an examination and breast ultrasound, but again, they explained there wasn’t anything of concern and that it could be costochondritis (inflammation of the breastbone).
Over the next few months, the pain worsened. It became extremely painful to even turn over in bed or to swim front crawl. Sometimes, it felt like the bones were crunching together. I spoke to the GP who sent me for a chest X-ray and referred me back to the hospital. And in May 2022, I had another ultrasound. which was clear. But I was getting increasingly concerned – I had no answers, and I knew these pains were symptoms of secondary.
Eventually, I was offered an MRI of my thorax (chest) which showed a large area of concern. I got booked in for a PET-CT scan, and in July 2022, 9 months after the pain began, I was told the cancer had spread to my bones. A biopsy confirmed that there was a 7cm tumour in my sternum bone and the cancer was incurable.
I feel very sad I wasn’t given an MRI or PET-CT scan when I first reported the issue. If I’d had the right scan at the time, I would still have secondary, but the tumour would have been significantly smaller and I would have started treatment much earlier.
Can you tell us about the treatments you've had since?
I started Goserelin (Zoladex), Letrozole and Ribociclib (Kisqali) to shrink the cancer in my bones. It worked incredibly well, shrinking the tumour significantly. In January 2023, I had a major operation to remove my entire sternum bone, with a view to getting rid of all traces of cancer, allowing me to live for as long as possible. I’m now recovering from surgery and continuing the medication, and I go for physiotherapy and acupuncture.
What advice would you give to someone post-primary, about looking out for secondary?
Breast cancer can return at any point, even 10 or 20 years down the line. So, it’s important to understand secondary symptoms, get to know what’s normal for your body and pay attention to any new aches, pains, breathlessness or other symptoms.
What would you say to someone concerned about secondary breast cancer?
Firstly, try not to panic, which is easier said than done. After treatment for primary breast cancer, there are side effects that could easily be mistaken for signs of secondary.
Try to avoid Google, and if you have a persistent new symptom, instead call your hospital and ask to be examined. There's every likelihood that your symptom isn’t cancer, but it’s always worth getting it checked, even if you think it’s nothing.
If you’re worried your hospital isn’t offering you the right kind of test, you can go back to them or your GP, and explain your worries or ask for a second opinion. Or use the Breast Cancer Now helpline to speak to a nurse. Nobody knows your body like you do.
If you’ve had primary breast cancer, it’s important to understand secondary breast cancer symptoms, get things checked, and be persistent - like Laura did.
Most breast cancer won’t come back, but it’s important to know your body and get clued up on secondary.
To stay aware of the signs and symptoms, see our helpful resources:
Laura Price, featured in this post, is the author of Single Bald Female. It's a book inspired by her experience of a diagnosis at 29. You can follow Laura’s story via Instagram @LauraPriceWrites or subscribe to her newsletter via lauraprice.substack.com.