Signs and Symptoms of Metastatic Breast Cancer

Symptoms of Metastatic Breast Cancer

The symptoms of metastatic breast cancer can vary depending on the organ involved. Metastasis is the term used to describe the process by which cancer cells leave the main breast tumor and travel to other parts of the body.

These cancer cells migrate via the circulation or lymphatic system (the network of lymph nodes and vessels that removes bacteria, viruses, and cell waste).

Metastatic breast cancer patients can also have symptoms experienced by patients in the early stages of breast cancer, however, these symptoms are much more severe.

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What is metastatic breast cancer?

Metastatic breast cancer, also known as stage IV, is breast cancer that has progressed to another organ, most commonly the bones, lungs, brain, or liver.

Breast cancer can return to another part of the body months or even years after the original diagnosis and treatment.

Over 30% of women with early-stage breast cancer are afflicted with the disease of metastatic spread.

There are relatively few cases of male breast cancer, men are also diagnosed with breast cancer that has spread, but it is unknown how many of these breast cancers do so.

The most common symptoms of metastatic breast cancer are as follows:

Breast Lump:

Tumors that are in the early stages of cancer are frequently too tiny to be touched or seen. Doctors advocate mammograms and other cancer screening procedures for this reason. They are able to spot early malignant alterations.

Many women will be able to see or feel a lump in their breast, even though stage 4 cancer is not always accompanied by huge tumors.

It could be present there or somewhere else close by. Women could have generalized swelling in the vicinity of their breasts or armpits.

Nipple Discharge:

Any fluid or other liquid that leaks from your nipple is known as a nipple discharge. Either the liquid will leak out of the nipple on its own or it has to be forced out.

Even if you are not pregnant or nursing, nipple discharge is typical during the reproductive years.

Changes in the skin:

Skin changes are a side effect of several breast cancer types. A kind of cancer that develops in the nipple region is Paget’s disease of the breast.

Typically, there are breast tumors present in this sort of cancer. Itchy, tingly, red, or thick skin are all possible symptoms. Some people have skin that is flaky and dry.

Skin alterations might result from inflammatory breast cancer. The cancer cells obstruct lymphatic vessels, resulting in skin discoloration, edema, and rashes.

These signs and symptoms of stage 4 breast cancer may appear, particularly if the tumor is big or affects the breast surface.


Metastatic breast cancer may interrupt the sleep cycle of the patients. It is typically believed that this condition of insomnia is neglected in patients with breast cancer. [Ref]

Several painkillers, notably the chemotherapeutic drug Ixempra (chemical name: ixabepilone), some hormonal therapies, and some targeted therapies for breast cancer, might also make the patients drowsy.

Both fatigue and lack of a proper sleep cycle are one of the most frequently found side effects of stage 4 breast cancer. [Ref]

Studies are now focused on developing a treatment plan for this sign of metastatic breast cancer.

Weight Loss:

A commonly found sign of stage 4 breast cancer is unexplained weight loss. Overall, independent of the type or stage of cancer, weight loss is almost always present in cancer patients.

This loss of weight is possibly due to a lack of appetite.

Changes in appetite:

All breast cancer therapies have the potential to alter appetite, so it’s ideal to have a flexible, nutritious eating plan to help you deal with your body’s shifting requirements and preferences.

The precise impact of your therapy on your appetite cannot be predicted by you or your doctor. You can still have a regular appetite and continue to love cooking and eating.

Alternately, you can go through phases where you feel like eating nothing, everything, or just a select few items. Your senses of taste and smell might alter.

The best way to manage the varying requirements and desires of your body is to establish a flexible, balanced food plan.

Shortness of breath:

Patients with stage 4 breast cancer may experience generalized difficulties breathing, including chest tightness and trouble taking deep breaths.

A persistent or dry cough may also be present at this time, which indicates that the disease has migrated to the lungs in certain cases.


According to a 2011 research that was published in the journal Oncologist, fatigue is the most often reported symptom among persons with cancer.

During therapy, it affects 25 to 99 percent of patients and 20 to 30 percent of patients following treatment. [Ref]

Fatigue may increase during stage 4 cancer and make daily tasks more challenging.


Even when breast cancer cells are developing inside of it, the breast may seem and feel completely normal in the early stages of the disease.

People may feel edema in the breast region and/or the afflicted arm in the latter stages. This happens when the big, malignant lymph nodes under the arm are present. This may stop the normal flow of fluid and result in lymphedema or a fluid backup.

Discomfort or pain:

As cancer progresses and spreads throughout the breast, women may experience discomfort and suffering.

Cancer cells do not feel pain, yet when they spread and enlarge, they press on or harm nearby tissue.

A significant tumor has the potential to penetrate the skin and develop sores or ulcers that hurt. It may also migrate to the ribs and chest muscles, where it will obviously hurt.

Symptoms Linked To The Progression Of metastatic breast Cancer

Depending on where cancer has progressed throughout the body, different symptoms may manifest. Bones, lungs, liver, and brain are typical sites where breast cancer spreads.


Cancer cells that have invaded the lungs might result in respiratory problems, such as persistent cough, and shortness of breath.


Neurological symptoms may result from cancer that has progressed to the brain. So these may consist of the:

  • Balance issues
  • Shift in vision
  • Headache
  • Dizziness
  • Weakness


Cancer that has spread to the bone might hurt and make fractures more likely. So you might experience pain in the:

  • Pelvis
  • Spine
  • Legs
  • Arms
  • Shoulders
  • Skull
  • Ribs

Common activities like walking may also become painful.


When cancer spreads to the liver, the signs may not be obvious at the start. But later on, the signs may appear as unintended weight loss, edema, jaundice, etc.

In Conclusion:

The signs and symptoms of metastatic breast cancer may vary from patient to patient.

However, most patients develop shortness of breath because of lung involvement, bony pains because of skeletal metastasis, jaundice, anorexia because of liver involvement, and altered sensorium because of brain involvement.

What do you think?

Written by Dr. Ahmed

I am Dr. Ahmed (MBBS; FCPS Medicine), an Internist and a practicing physician. I am in the medical field for over fifteen years working in one of the busiest hospitals and writing medical posts for over 5 years.

I love my family, my profession, my blog, nature, hiking, and simple life. Read more about me, my family, and my qualifications

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