Deciding on a treatment for secondary breast cancer
The aim of treatment for secondary breast cancer is to control the cancer, relieve the symptoms and help you to live longer with a good quality of life.
Different treatments can be used to keep the cancer under control for a long time, sometimes for many years.
They can be used in combination with each other.
The treatment your cancer specialist (oncologist) advises will depend on different factors, such as:
where the secondary cancer is in your body
whether the cancer is ER positive or HER2 positive
other breast cancer treatments you had before and how long ago
the grade of the cancer (how slow- or fast-growing the cells are)
your symptoms and general health.
If the cancer is ER positive you will be given hormonal therapy. There are different drugs and the type your doctor prescribes will depend on whether you’ve been through the menopause or not.
Chemotherapy is often used to treat secondary breast cancer. You may have different courses of chemotherapy with a single drug or a combination of drugs.
If you have HER2 positive breast cancer you will usually be given targeted therapy drugs, such as Herceptin.
Radiotherapy is used to relieve pain in secondary cancer in the bone or it can be used to shrink secondary cancer in the brain.
Occasionally, surgery may be used to remove a small tumour in the brain or to help strengthen a weak bone.
If a treatment is no longer working your oncologist will usually advise another type. Different treatments can be given, one after the other, to keep the cancer under control. Your specialist doctor and nurse will involve you in treatment decisions so that your preferences are taken into account.
Newer treatments and different ways of giving existing treatments are also being developed. Your cancer doctor may talk to you about taking part in a research trial.
If, at some stage, you decide not to have further treatment, there is a lot that can be done to control your symptoms and to support you. You can be referred to doctors and nurses who specialise in controlling symptoms any time during or after your treatment.