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Breast Cancer - Living With Metastatic Disease

The illness

In metastatic breast cancer, the cancer spreads through the body via the lymph or bloodstream. They say he has cancer Metastases educated. If breast cancer spreads to distant organs, it is mostly to the bones, lungs and liver.

In around 1 in 4 women with the disease, the cancer progresses and forms metastases. About 3 in 100 women with breast cancer will have metastasized by the time they are diagnosed.


The doctor carries out several examinations to determine whether breast cancer is actually present and how far it has spread. If metastases are suspected after the initial examinations or if you are about to undergo chemotherapy, experts recommend imaging examinations of the lungs, liver and bones.

If metastases were detected in the image examinations, a tissue sample is important. It is possible that metastases have different properties than the original cancer in the breast. In this way, your medical team receives information that is important for your treatment.


Treatment of metastatic breast cancer has the following goals: to avoid or alleviate discomfort, to extend life and to maintain the quality of life as much as possible.

Once the cancer has spread in the body, it is no longer possible to completely remove it. In this case, surgery will not bring you any advantage. The procedure would only burden you unnecessarily.

The following different treatment options come into consideration:

  • Medicines that act all over the body
  • a targeted treatment of individual metastases - usually through surgery or radiation
  • A good supportive treatment that is not aimed at the cancer itself, but primarily alleviates symptoms

Under favorable conditions, the disease can often be kept under control for years.

Professionals recommend the following treatments with the aim of relieving discomfort and slowing cancer growth:

  • Anti-hormone treatment: Breast cancer grows more strongly under the influence of female hormones in around three quarters of patients. A drug can switch off these endogenous hormones. If a test confirms hormone dependence, the person concerned is recommended to undergo anti-hormone treatment.
  • chemotherapy: Medicines are used here that disrupt cell division. It is suitable for women whose cancer does not grow in a hormone-dependent manner and who are physically not too weak.
  • Experts do not recommend using anti-hormones and chemotherapy at the same time. It does not improve survival, but the side effects may increase.
  • Targeted treatment: The active ingredients, such as antibodies, target specific properties of cancer cells. If a test shows that the cancer is suitable for such a treatment, targeted active substances can be used in addition to or after chemotherapy.
  • Targeted irradiation: to relieve discomfort, for example pain in the bones. All treatments can sometimes cause considerable side effects. Some of these side effects can be treated preventively. For example, there are drugs that can effectively prevent or reduce nausea and vomiting.

You can also refrain from treatment against the cancer: for example, if the body is weakened or you cannot tolerate the medication. Then only the consequences of the disease such as pain are effectively treated. Finding the right treatment is sometimes not easy. It all depends on your personal goals. Your doctor can give you detailed advice and make suggestions - but the decision is yours.

What you can do yourself

Treating your illness is also about maintaining your quality of life in the best possible way. For many, this means being able to live largely pain-free and without major discomfort.

  • Decide for yourself which burdens you want to take on through the therapy. You can also cancel a treatment.

  • You don't have to bravely endure potential pain. With the right treatment, they can be effectively eliminated or alleviated.

  • At any point in time - even after the treatment has ended - you can resort to psychological or psychotherapeutic help.

  • Exchange ideas with other people affected, for example in a self-help group.

  • The clinic social services and cancer counseling centers are important contact points for all problems related to sick leave, work, insurance and family support.

April 2019, published by the German Medical Association and the National Association of Statutory Health Insurance Physicians