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If your doctor has made a diagnosis of metastatic breast cancer, this means that the cancer has advanced to what’s known as stage 4.

Stage 4 breast cancer refers to cancer that’s spread beyond the breast tissue and local lymph nodes into other areas of the body.

To understand the prognosis, or outlook, for stage 4 breast cancer, it helps to know something about the process of metastasis.

When cancer “metastasizes,” it has spread beyond the part of the body where it originated.

In the case of breast cancer, receiving a stage 4 diagnosis may mean the cancer has reached organs outside the breasts, such as your bones, lungs, liver, or brain.

Metastatic breast cancer isn’t the same for everyone who has it. According to the National Breast Cancer Foundation, your symptoms at stage 4 will depend on the degree to which the cancer has spread in your body.

Although metastatic breast cancer has no current cure, it can be treated. Getting the right treatment can increase both your quality of life and longevity.

According to the American Cancer Society, the 5-year survival rate after diagnosis for people with stage 4 breast cancer is 27 percent.

This percentage is considerably lower than earlier stages. For all stages, the overall 5-year survival rate is 90 percent.

Because survival rates are higher in the early stages of breast cancer, early diagnosis and treatment is crucial.

But remember: The right treatment for stage 4 breast cancer can improve quality of life and longevity.

Understanding survival rates

Survival rates for breast cancer are based on studies of many people with the condition. These statistics can’t predict your personal outcome. Each person’s outlook is different.

The following factors can affect your life expectancy with metastatic breast cancer:

  • your age
  • your general health
  • hormone receptors and HER2 receptors on cells with cancer
  • the types of tissue that the cancer has affected

There are a few general facts that are helpful to know about breast cancer outlook:

  • Breast cancer is the most common cancer diagnosis in the United States.
  • Many people with breast cancer live longer than they used to. Over the last 10 years, the number of deaths from breast cancer has dropped substantially.
  • The American Cancer Society estimates approximately 276,480 new diagnoses of breast cancer in 2020.

Breast cancer survivors need to keep in mind the possibility of their cancer returning.

But in recent years, people under age 50 have seen a particularly strong decline in death rates due to breast cancer, reports the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

These declines are due in part to improved screening and treatment for the disease.

The stage of your breast cancer when you receive your diagnosis plays an important role in your outlook.

According to the National Cancer Institute, you have the best outlook in the 5 years after your breast cancer diagnosis when the cancer is diagnosed and treated at an earlier stage.

Remember that everyone is different, and your response to treatment may not match someone else’s — even at stage 4. Researchers continue to test different treatment options for metastatic breast cancer. Each year the outlook improves.

Talk with your doctor to learn more about the individual factors that may affect your outlook.

Read this article in Spanish.