When cancer is in remission, it’s not visible on imaging or other tests. There’s a chance it’s still in the body but too small to detect. Recurrence means the cancer has returned, either in the original site or in nearby lymph nodes.

There’s no current cure for stage 4 breast cancer, but it can be treated and managed.

Most people with stage 4 breast cancer have alternating periods of disease stability and disease progression.

It isn’t clear why stage 4 cancer doesn’t progress further in some people, yet others who have the disease don’t survive. In most cases, stage 4 cancer is likely to return, even if a person enters remission.

This article looks at remission and recurrence for people living with stage 4 breast cancer.

What is stage 4 breast cancer?

Stage 4, or metastatic, breast cancer means the cancer has spread — or metastasized — beyond its point of origin to other organs and tissues. For people who received a diagnosis between 2013 and 2019, the 5-year relative survival rate for stage 4 breast cancer is 31%.

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Although remission is an important milestone during cancer treatment, it doesn’t mean the body is free of cancer. When cancer is in remission, healthcare professionals can’t see the disease on imaging or other tests. There’s a chance the disease is still in the body but at a level that’s too small to detect.

When treatment destroys all cancer cells that could be measured or seen on a test, it’s called a pCR. This stands for pathological complete response or pathological complete remission.

A partial response or partial remission means the cancer partly responded to the treatment, but the treatment didn’t destroy it.

However, continued advances in chemotherapy and other breast cancer treatments have led to improved survival rates for people with stage 4 cancer.

A 2017 review reports that advanced therapies are extending the amount of time before cancer becomes detectable again. There’s an indication that further improvements, especially in areas such as immunotherapy and targeted therapy, will increase the number of people living with stage 4 cancer.

Breast cancer recurrence means the disease has returned after it was undetectable for some time.

The cancer may return in the same breast where doctors first diagnosed it. This is called local recurrence. Or the cancer may come back in the lymph nodes near the spot where the tumor first developed. This is called regional recurrence.

Treatment for stage 4 breast cancer may include targeted therapies, hormonal therapies, or immunotherapy. A comprehensive and exhaustive treatment plan may rid your breast tissue and surrounding lymph nodes of cancer.

However, cancer may spread to another organ, such as the liver, brain, or lung. If tests identify the cancer cells in other organs outside the breast as breast cancer cells, it means the cancer has metastasized. Even though cancer is growing in one of those organs, it is still stage 4 breast cancer.

If the cancer cells in one of those organs differ from the breast cancer cells, it indicates two types of cancer. A biopsy can help determine this.

Breast cancer recurrence can be worrying and upsetting.

If you have a breast cancer recurrence and feel overwhelmed and distressed, consider joining a breast cancer support group. Some people find talking with others about their fears and frustrations helpful.

You may find inspiration and companionship in sharing and hearing other people’s stories. But if you have depressive symptoms or troubling side effects from the treatment, it’s important to talk with your doctor.

You may also be eligible for a clinical trial testing a new procedure or therapy. Clinical trials can’t promise success, but they may allow you to try a new treatment before it becomes available. Your doctor can talk with you about clinical trials for breast cancer treatment and help you decide whether this may be an option for you.

Tips for finding a breast cancer support group near you.

What is the longest you can live with stage 4 breast cancer?

There’s no cure for stage 4 breast cancer. The 5-year relative survival rate for people with stage 4 breast cancer is 31%, based on women who received a diagnosis of breast cancer between 2013 and 2019.

With advances in treatment, people with metastatic breast cancer are living longer. According to a 2018 study, the median survival time for metastatic breast cancer increased from 21 to 38 months between 1990 and 2010.

Can you live 30 years with metastatic breast cancer?

While some people have been living with stage 4 breast cancer for more than 15 years, the 5-year relative survival rate for women with metastatic breast cancer in the United States is 31%.

A relative survival rate gives an idea of how long someone with a specific condition may live after their diagnosis compared with someone without the condition. For example, a 5-year relative survival rate of 31% means that someone with that condition is 31% as likely to live for 5 years as someone without the condition.

Is there a cure for stage 4 breast cancer?

While there is no cure for metastatic breast cancer, it’s possible to manage the disease with treatment for a number of years. It’s also possible for the cancer to go into remission. It can go into complete remission (when there are no cancer signs or symptoms) or partial remission (when the cancer is still present but has become smaller).

While there’s no data on how long remission can last, new treatments can help to control the cancer, relieve symptoms, and allow people to live longer.

What are the odds of surviving stage 4 breast cancer?

Although there’s no cure for stage 4 breast cancer, treatments are available, and survival rates continue to improve.

The 5-year relative survival rate for people who have been diagnosed with stage 4 breast cancer is 31%. This means that, on average, people who have stage 4 breast cancer are about 31% as likely as people who don’t have that cancer to live for at least 5 years after receiving a diagnosis.

Living with stage 4 breast cancer is challenging. But cancer treatments are improving every year and can help people manage the cancer better.

People with stage 4 cancer can experience remission when the cancer is no longer detectable. They can also have a recurrence of the cancer, which means it returns.

Being proactive with your health and following your treatment plan is important. It’s also important to work closely with your healthcare team and ask all the necessary questions to feel comfortable.