Although the average age of diagnosis for breast cancer in the United States is 62 years, the condition can also affect people in their 50s or at a younger age.

Metastatic breast cancer (MBC) occurs when breast cancer spreads from your breast to other parts of your body. There’s currently no cure for MBC, but treatment may help you live longer and improve your quality of life.

Receiving a diagnosis of MBC in your 50s can be overwhelming. Learning about the condition may help you feel more in control and plan for what lies ahead.

MBC is also known as stage 4 breast cancer or advanced breast cancer.

MBC occurs when cancer cells that developed in your breast spread to other areas of your body, such as your:

  • lungs
  • brain
  • liver
  • bones

Most people with breast cancer receive a diagnosis in earlier stages of the condition, but some people first learn they have breast cancer after it has already spread. This is known as de novo MBC.

MBC may cause changes to your breast, such as:

  • a new lump in your breast or underarm
  • swelling of all or part of your breast
  • changes in the shape of your breast
  • changes to the skin on your breast
  • nipple retraction (pulling inward)
  • nipple discharge
  • breast pain
  • fatigue

Depending on where the cancer has spread, MBC may also cause symptoms elsewhere in the body, such as:

  • fatigue
  • bone, joint, or back pain
  • loss of bladder control or difficulty urinating
  • weakness or numbness in any part of your body
  • a chronic dry cough
  • shortness of breath
  • difficulty breathing
  • chest pain
  • loss of appetite
  • abdominal swelling
  • abdominal pain or discomfort
  • chronic nausea or vomiting
  • unexplained weight loss
  • yellow tinge to your skin and eyes
  • severe headache
  • vision problems
  • balance problems
  • confusion
  • seizures

The National Cancer Institute reports that American women in their 50s have a 2.4%, 1 in 42, chance of developing breast cancer.

The condition is more common in older women and less common in younger women.

Breast cancer can affect people of any sex, although it’s much less common in people assigned male at birth.

Your individual risk of breast cancer may be higher or lower depending on factors such as your:

  • family medical history and genetics
  • race or ethnicity
  • childbearing history
  • contraceptive use
  • age of menopause
  • lifestyle habits

People who have inherited mutations in their BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes have an increased risk of developing breast cancer, including at younger ages than average.

However, not all people who develop breast cancer in their 50s or at a younger age have BRCA mutations. And some people with BRCA mutations develop breast cancer at an older age or don’t develop it at all.

Multiple factors contribute to the development and spread of breast cancer.

There’s no way to know exactly why you’ve developed breast cancer or why it’s spread.

There’s currently no cure for MBC, but improvements in treatment are helping people live longer and with higher quality of life. Researchers continue to develop and test new treatments that may improve survival rates.

According to the American Cancer Society, the 5-year relative survival rate for breast cancer that has spread to distant parts of the body is 30% for women of all ages. This means that after controlling for other causes of death, roughly 30% of women who receive a diagnosis of MBC will live for 5 years or longer.

It’s possible that the survival rate has improved since the ACS reported this statistic.

The age-adjusted death rate for breast cancer has been falling by an average of 1.3% per year from 2011–2020.

More research is needed to learn how MBC survival rates vary by age. Studies have found mixed results. For example:

  • A 2020 study in France found that women who received a diagnosis of MBC before the age of 60 had better survival rates than those who got a diagnosis over the age of 60.
  • A 2017 study in the United States found that women with MBC under the age of 70 had better survival rates than older women with MBC.

Other factors may also affect your outlook with MBC, including:

  • your overall health
  • at what stage of the cancer you received a diagnosis
  • where and how much the cancer has spread
  • whether the cancer cells have hormone receptors or certain genetic mutations
  • which type of treatments you receive
  • how well the cancer responds to treatment
  • whether you develop treatment side effects

Talk with your doctor to learn more about your individual outlook with MBC.

Recent treatment advancements are improving survival rates and quality of life for people with MBC.

Your doctor may recommend one or more of the following treatments for MBC:

  • hormone therapy
  • chemotherapy
  • targeted therapy
  • immunotherapy

They may also recommend surgery, radiation therapy, or both. These treatments are less effective for treating MBC than early stage breast cancer, but they may help relieve certain symptoms or complications from MBC.

Your doctor may also prescribe palliative treatments to relieve pain, nausea, or other symptoms that you might develop as a result of MBC or treatment side effects. These treatments can be given alongside the other treatments to control the MBC.

Your doctor will consider multiple factors when developing your treatment plan, including:

  • your age and overall health
  • how far and where the cancer has spread
  • whether the cancer tests positive for certain genetic mutations or proteins
  • your treatment goals and preferences
  • your quality of life

Your doctor will order follow-up tests to learn how well the cancer is responding to treatment and to check for signs of side effects. They may adjust your treatment plan if the cancer isn’t responding well, you develop side effects from treatment, and new treatments become available.

In some cases, they may encourage you to participate in a clinical trial to receive an experimental treatment that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not yet approved for MBC. They can help you understand the potential benefits and risks of taking part in a trial.

Let your doctor know if your symptoms change or you have questions or concerns about your treatment.

Breast cancer is most common in women over the age of 60, but it can also affect younger women and people of other genders.

MBC occurs when the cancer spreads from your breast to other parts of your body. Some studies suggest that women who receive a diagnosis of MBC in their 50s may have better survival rates on average than older women, but more research is needed.

Treatment advancements are helping to improve survival rates and quality of life for people with MBC. New therapies are often safer and more effective than older treatment options. Ongoing research may continue to improve treatment options and outlooks.

Talk with your doctor to learn about the latest treatment options and your outlook with MBC.