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Learning the facts

When you understand what your metastatic breast cancer (MBC) diagnosis means and how it’s affecting your body, it can help you talk openly with your oncology doctors about what the best care options are for you.

Why did my cancer come back?

Cancer research still can’t tell us why some breast cancers come back and others do not. The fact that your cancer has come back does not mean that you received the wrong treatment for your initial breast cancer, nor does it mean that you didn’t look after yourself.

The truth is: anyone who has had breast cancer can have a recurrence or relapse at any time − sometimes cancer comes back.

What does this mean for me?

Metastatic breast cancer (MBC) is different from earlier stages of cancer.
MBC has spread from the breast to other organs in your body.
The tumours in these different parts are called metastases.

If you were treated for breast cancer before, it was likely for a limited period of time.
MBC is a chronic, terminal cancer.
Treatment will slow the growth of cancer, maybe even stop it for a while, but it will need lifelong treatment.

  • You will find different words used to describe MBC, such as secondary breast cancer or stage 4 breast cancer.
  • Tumours might also be referred to as a carcinoma or adenocarcinoma.
What kind of tests do i need to confirm my diagnosis?

There is no single test that says ‘you have metastatic breast cancer’.
The first thing your oncology doctors will want to do is find out as much as possible about your cancer: like what type it is and where it has spread in the body.

These tests help your doctor know what the best options are for your treatment. The tests are needed to help them set out an effective treatment plan that will work for you.


You may have to undergo several types of tests:

  • Lab test
  • Imaging procedure
  • Biopsy

You can find out more about these tests.


Which tests are performed may vary from one person to another – depending on your signs and symptoms, whether you’ve had breast cancer before and what the usual practice (protocol) is in the hospital where you are being seen.


If you have had breast cancer before, your doctors will still need to repeat a full set of diagnostic tests to find out everything they can about your current cancer.

It’s important to remember that you have done nothing wrong – it’s not your fault.

Key points to consider about your diagnosis

  • Metastatic breast cancer means that the cancer that was originally in your breast has spread to other parts of your body.
  • The goal of treatment is to prevent the cancer from growing and spreading any further and to help you live with your disease with the best possible quality of life.
  • Unlike cancers detected at an early stage, metastatic breast cancer is a chronic disease. Everyone’s experience is different – you will not necessarily have the same breast cancer symptoms, side effects, and tests as someone else.
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