Treatment overview

The aim of treatment is to control the cancer, help you to live well for longer, and relieve symptoms. You may have different or combined treatments one after the other to keep the cancer under control. In between treatments, women often find they can get on with their day-to-day life.

Your cancer doctor and nurse will involve you in treatment decisions and make sure your preferences are taken into account. They help to support you and, if needed, they can refer you for more specialised help in coping with your emotions.

Newer treatments and different ways of giving existing treatments are being developed. Your cancer doctor may talk to you about taking part in a research trial.

The treatment you have will depend on different factors, such as:

  • where the secondary cancer is in your body
  • whether the cancer is ER-positive or HER2-positive
  • previous breast cancer treatments you have had and how long ago
  • your symptoms and general health.

If the cancer is ER-positive, your doctor will talk to you about having hormonal therapy. There are different hormonal drugs and treatments that can be used.

Chemotherapy is often used to treat secondary breast cancer. You may have chemotherapy with a single drug or sometimes with a combination of drugs.

If you have HER2-positive breast cancer, you will usually be given targeted therapy drugs, such as trastuzumab.

Your cancer doctor may give you radiotherapy to relieve pain from a secondary cancer in the bone. You can also have drugs to help strengthen bones.

Radiotherapy can also be used to shrink secondary cancer in the brain or in lymph nodes.

Occasionally, surgery is used to remove a small tumour in the brain or to help strengthen a weak bone.

Your doctor can refer you to a specialist doctor or nurse who is an expert in symptom control at any time during or after treatment. This helps make sure that any difficult symptoms you have are controlled. You can see them in hospital and nurses can visit you in your own home.

If, at some stage, you decide not to have further treatment, they will support you and make sure your symptoms are controlled. Experts in this area are sometimes called palliative care specialists.

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