What is Stage 4 Breast Cancer & the Survival Rate
Learn more about metastatic breast cancer, diagnosis, life expectancy, survival rate, and surgery options for stage 4 breast cancer with this guide.
What is Stage 4 Breast Cancer?
What is stage 4 breast cancer? Also referred to as stage iv breast cancer, is considered stage 4 once it has spread beyond the breast tissue and nearby lymph nodes to other organs or parts of the body. In most cases, breast cancer will spread to the bones, lungs, or liver. Not as often, but in some cases, breast cancer can also spread to other organs such as the brain.
A stage 4 breast cancer diagnosis is confirmed by examining factors of the American Joint Committee on Cancer (AJCC) TNM system, which includes:
- Size of the tumor
- Whether the cancer has spread to nearby lymph nodes
- The extent of the spread (metastasis) to distant sites
- Estrogen Receptors status
- Progesterone Receptor status
- Does the cancer make too much of the HER2 protein?
- Grade of the cancer
Take the breast cancer quiz to learn more about stage 4 breast cancer.
What is the Survival Rate of Stage 4 Breast Cancer?
The stage 4 breast cancer survival rate for 5 years is 28 percent. This rate is low comparing to the survival rate of all stages, which is nearly 90 percent. Because the survival rate is considerably higher in early stages of breast cancer, early detection is extremely important. Mammograms help detect breast cancer early before the disease has spread. Breast cancer is the second most common cancer type in women, so promoting awareness for early detection can make an impact.
The median survival rate of stage 4 breast cancer is three years. This means that after 3 years, 50 percent of patients are still alive. While this rate is for all stage 4 patients, the survival rate depends on several factors. For example, those with known biomarkers have access to new targeted drugs being developed in clinical trials for breast cancer patients of all stages. These new therapies are improving the outcomes of cancer patients, including those in stage 4.
Is Stage 4 Breast Cancer Curable?
Many patients question, can stage 4 breast cancer go into remission? In some cases, yes. However, patients in remission from stage 4 cancer are likely to have the disease return at some point. When in remission, the disease can’t be seen in any imaging tests, but there is still a chance the disease is present, but in levels that are too low to detect.
Most treatments for stage 4 breast cancer and other cancer types are palliative and not curative, meaning their goal is to relieve symptoms and improve the patients’ overall quality of life. Curative treatments are aimed to completely remove the disease from the patient. As for completely curing stage 4 breast cancer, it is not a common occurrence since many of the patients who go into remission will have the disease relapse at some point.
Common treatment options for stage 4 breast cancer includes one of, or a combination of:
- Hormone therapy
- Targeted therapies
For some patients with stage 4 breast cancer surgery options are available depending on where the disease has spread.
How Long Can You Live with Stage 4 Breast Cancer?
Many patients and caregivers wonder, is stage 4 breast cancer curable, or is stage 4 breast cancer always terminal? This can depend on many factors such as the subtype of disease and the extent of metastasis. Despite stage 4 cancer being the least likely to be cured or go in remission, many patients live for several years after a diagnosis of metastatic cancer. In rare cases, some patients will end up beating metastatic breast cancer. However, once breast cancer is in stage 4, it has spread to other tissues and organs around the body, which can make it more difficult to treat.
What is the Life Expectancy for Stage 4 Breast Cancer?
Stage 4 breast cancer life expectancy can vary depending on several factors. The following factors can affect your life expectancy with metastatic breast cancer:
- Overall health
- Amount of hormone receptors and HER2 receptors on cancerous cells
- Tissues that the cancer has affected
There is still not a clear answer for how long can you live with stage 4 breast cancer because it can vary greatly from patient to patient. Other factors such as past and current treatments being used also can have an effect on the life expectancy for patients.
Is Stage 4 Breast Cancer Painful?
Stage iv metastatic breast cancer can be painful for patients similar to other cancer types. Because the prognosis of metastatic cancer is often less favorable, many patients question is stage 4 breast cancer painful? It depends on several factors such as, where the cancer has and what type of cells are being affected. For example, if the cancer has spread to the bone, patients may experience persistent bone pain. Palliative treatments can be given to patients to help relieve symptoms such as pain. These treatments can include chemotherapy, hormone therapy, or radiation therapy.
Clinical Trials for Stage 4 Breast Cancer
Because of how severe stage 4 breast cancer often is, many treatment options are not as effective as they are in early stages. Many advanced cancer patients turn to clinical trials to seek new treatments. Clinical trials. Before therapies for cancer can be approved by the FDA and are considered standard of care, they need to go through several phases of clinical trials to ensure they are both safe for patients and effective at treating their disease.
Clinical trials are also available for patients of other stages. However, there are fewer available therapies as the disease progresses, so clinical trials are sometimes viewed as the last stage treatment for breast cancer. Breast cancer clinical trials offer the latest drugs in cancer research that target the genetic makeup of the tumor, which can lead to fewer side effects and improved responses to therapies.