Explainer: The symptoms of secondary breast cancer, the terminal condition which kills 40,000 women annually

Secondary breast cancer, also known as metastatic breast cancer (MBC), is breast cancer that has spread from the breast to other parts of the body.

By Jack Marshall
Monday, 13th June 2022, 11:37 am
Updated Monday, 13th June 2022, 11:37 am

Primary breast cancer starts as a lump in the breast and, for many women, doesn’t return after treatment. In some cases, however, cancer cells break away from the primary breast cancer and spread to other parts of the body through the bloodstream or lymphatic system.

These cells create a new cancer known as a secondary cancer or metastasis. The secondary cancer is made up of breast cancer cells which means that a secondary breast cancer in the liver behaves and is treated as breast cancer rather than a primary liver cancer.

Secondary breast cancer can be diagnosed years after the primary breast cancer but, very occasionally, secondary breast cancer is someone’s first diagnosis.

The Fighting To Be Heard campaign from Make 2nds Count

The symptoms of secondary breast cancer depend on where and how much the cancer has spread. They are as follows:

Bone metastasis symptoms

- Bone, back, neck, or joint pain

- Bone fractures

- Swelling

Brain metastasis symptoms

- Headache

- Nausea

- Seizures

- Dizziness

- Confusion

- Vision changes, such as double vision or loss of vision

- Personality changes

- Loss of balance

Lung metastasis symptoms

- Shortness of breath

- Difficulty breathing

- Constant dry cough

Liver metastasis symptoms

- Yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes, called jaundice

- Itchy skin or rash

- Pain or swelling in the belly

- Loss of appetite

- Nausea

Other symptoms and signs of metastasis

- Loss of appetite

- Weight loss

- Nausea

- Vomiting

- Fatigue

If you’re concerned about any of these symptoms, speak to a doctor immediately.

MBC kills 40,000 women annually, including 1,000 each month in the UK alone. While some 35,000 people in the UK currently live with MBC, a recent YouGov poll revealed that 38% of the population is unaware the disease even exists, while 21% of those who are familiar with MBC were unable to name any common symptoms.

Family-focused charity Make 2nds Count recently launched a campaign called 'Fighting To Be Heard', which seeks to raise awareness of the symptoms of MBC and of the disease in general.