Metastatic breast cancer, or stage 4 breast cancer, means cancer has spread to other organs and may result in new symptoms. There’s no cure, but with treatment, survival rates continue to improve over time.

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, like your bones or your lungs. In this article, we’ll go over what to expect when it comes to metastatic breast cancer, from prognosis to treatment.

Metastatic breast cancer isn’t the same for everyone who has it.

Your symptoms at stage 4 will depend on the degree to which the cancer has spread in your body.

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 size of the tumor
  • the types of tissue that the cancer has affected

According to the American Cancer Society and based on the National Cancer Center (NCL)’s Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results (SEER) program, the overall 5-year survival rate after diagnosis for people with stage 4 breast cancer is 31%. This percentage is considerably lower than in earlier stages. For all stages, the overall 5-year survival rate is 91%.

Because survival rates are higher in the early stages of breast cancer, early diagnosis and treatment are crucial. But remember: The right treatment for stage 4 breast cancer can improve quality of life and longevity.

Generally, younger females assigned at birth (FAABs) seem more likely to develop aggressive forms of breast cancer that spread to multiple locations. Medical professionals typically diagnose older FAABs with later-stage cancer, more often involving breast cancer that has spread to the lungs.

According to a 2023 study, the 5-year survival rates based on age are:

  • young: 42.1%
  • middle age: 34.8%
  • older age: 28.3%
  • oldest age: 11.8%

Notably, some research suggests that people belonging to historically marginalized groups often have poorer outcomes than people who are white when it comes to cancer, including breast cancer.

For example, a 2022 study found that the 5-year survival rate for breast cancer in Black women is 71.1% compared to 82.4% in women who are white. This, in turn, may be lower depending on each person’s age, type and stage of cancer, and general health.

According to the study, people who belong to historically marginalized groups may experience a greater burden of stress and negative life events, which is associated with a later diagnosis, more aggressive tumors, and low quality of life.

The most frequently affected areas by the spread of breast cancer are the bones, liver, lungs, and brain. Breast cancer that has spread to these sites has the following 5-year survival rate, according to a 2019 study:

  • bone: 39.8%
  • lung: 10.94%
  • liver: 7.34%
  • brain: 1.51%

Survival with breast cancer can also be affected by the subtype of cancer you have. In about 15-20% of people, breast cancer produces higher levels of a protein called HER2, which causes the tumor to grow faster.

Although this type of cancer is aggressive, it also responds well to treatment, especially if it also tests positive for the hormone receptors of estrogen (ER+) and progesterone (PR+).

These are the 5-year survival rates for these subtypes based on SEER data:

  • HR+/HER2-: 34%
  • HR-/HER2-: 12.8%
  • HR+/HER2+: 45.6%
  • HR-/HER2+: 39.5%

In addition, according to a 2022 study, people who received systemic therapy and those who received local surgery procedures had similar overall survival rates after 3 years of 67.9% and 68.4%, respectively.

That said, while surgery didn’t improve people’s overall survival and quality of life, it did lead to a lower occurrence of local tumor progression.

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, according to the SEER data.
  • Many people with breast cancer live longer than they used to. Over time, the number of deaths from breast cancer has dropped substantially.
  • The American Cancer Society estimates approximately 310,720 new diagnoses of breast cancer in 2024.

Can stage 4 breast cancer be cured?

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

People with metastatic breast cancer need to receive treatments for the rest of their lives. If a certain treatment stops being effective, another treatment regimen may be more effective.

Can stage 4 breast cancer go into remission?

Stage 4 breast cancer can go into remission, meaning that medical professionals can’t detect it in imaging or other tests. Advances in stage 4 breast cancer treatments are helping to increase the length of remission. That said, in most cases, even if stage 4 cancer goes into remission, it’s likely to reoccur later.

Learn more about stage 4 breast cancer remission and recurrence.

Can I live 10 years with metastatic breast cancer?

According to a 2016 study, the 10-year survival rate for stage 4 breast cancer is around 13%.

The stage of your breast cancer at diagnosis plays an important role in your outlook.

According to the NCL‘s SEER data, you have the best outlook in the 5 years after your breast cancer diagnosis when a medical professional diagnoses the cancer and treats it 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.

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