We're ramping up research efforts to stop women dying from secondary breast cancer and working to ensure that women living with secondary breast cancer receive the best possible care.

Secondary breast cancer – breast cancer that’s spread to other parts of the body – kills 1,000 UK women a month.

While there is currently no cure for secondary breast cancer, we are making real progress in understanding how and why cancer spreads, how it can be treated and what we need to do in order to stop it becoming resistant to treatments.

New drugs have been developed that are giving women and men with secondary breast cancer more quality time with their loved ones, with less severe side effects than other treatments.

The ambition

By 2025, as a result of increased research, we believe 25% fewer people will develop secondary breast cancer.

By 2030, we believe more than 50% of those diagnosed with the disease will survive beyond five years.

Our approach

We must create an even greater focus on secondary breast cancer, doing more to understand the biology of the disease and how to effectively tackle it, improving treatments and ensuring the needs of those living with it are met.

  • We need to develop ways to better identify those at risk of their breast cancer spreading. Our researchers are working on techniques that involve looking at tumour DNA found in patients’ blood to seek early indicators that their cancer is about to spread, so that rapid action might be taken to stop it from happening.
  • Tumour and blood samples from women with secondary breast cancer are vital for research, however these samples are in very short supply. Working sensitively and collaboratively with consenting patients and their families, we will work to enable secondary tissue to be collected along with information about the treatments that did and didn’t work for each patient.
  • We must develop new treatments to stop breast cancer spreading and champion clinical trial designs that support their development. We need more research into how novel therapies and combinations of existing drugs affect secondary breast cancer, to optimise the treatment that patients receive. Our researchers are hunting for ways to stop secondary breast cancer taking hold, including investigating special cells in the breast tumour called ‘cancer stem cells’, thought to be responsible for seeding new tumours elsewhere in the body, to figure out how to stop them in their tracks.
  • We need to understand when and how cancer cells escape and spread to become incurable secondary breast cancer. Research is beginning to reveal that healthy cells throughout the body may be playing an important role in the development and spread of breast cancer. Many of our researchers are now studying these cells, including the cells that line the blood vessels and cells of the immune system, with the hope of finding new treatments that could harness these non-cancer cells to slow or even prevent the spread of breast cancer throughout the body.

Watch our video on secondary breast cancer:


More information

Find out more about the research projects we are funding

Find out more about secondary breast cancer in our online guide