Woman looking serious

About advanced breast cancer

What is advanced breast cancer?

Advanced cancer is a term that usually describes cancer that has spread. Treatment for advanced cancer is normally to keep the cancer under control rather than trying to cure it. Advanced cancers have usually spread from where they started to other parts of the body and can also be called secondary or metastatic cancer. 

Anecdotal evidence suggests that around 700 women present with advanced breast cancer every year, and up to 3,200 women are currently living with the disease in Ireland.

This is a form of breast cancer that has spread from the original site in the breast to other parts of the body. The most common parts of the body that cancer spreads to are the bones, liver, lungs and brain.

October 13 was National Metastatic Breast Cancer Day, a day for raising awareness about advanced (also called secondary) breast cancer. Along with our partners in the fight against breast cancer the Marie Keating Foundation and Europa Donna Ireland, the Irish Cancer Society is calling for a greater focus on supports for people with advanced breast cancer. A diagnosis of advanced breast cancer is a very different experience to a primary diagnosis. An advanced diagnosis can be absolutely devastating for a patient and it brings with it a whole range of more intense psychological, emotional and physical needs. There is a feeling of isolation, a fear for the future, and a lack of a network or support structure, as well as problems around fatigue and cognitive issues.

The uncertainty that this diagnosis brings means that living with advanced breast cancer is much more challenging and more targeted supports are needed to ensure a decent quality of life for survivors.

A recent report by European School of Oncology highlighted actionable priorities in the areas of patient care, psycho-social assistance, access to information, financial support and workplace rights and it is vital that they are implemented.

Research being done

The Society is currently conducting research with advanced breast cancer patients and it is hoped that the study will lead to a better overall understanding of quality of life in terms of fatigue and cogitative concerns of metastatic breast cancer patients. The research is also examining if services, like the Irish Cancer Society’s Cancer Nurseline, as well as other support services, will benefit these patients. Once the results are made available to us we will be reviewing them and looking at implementing the recommendations as soon as possible.

Dr Damir Vareslija, Irish Cancer Society-funded advanced breast cancer researcher

Damir works at the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland as part of BREAST-PREDICT, a collaborate network of breast cancer researchers funded by the Irish Cancer Society. Here he talks about his trying to identify faulty genes that lead to metastatic breast cancer spreading to the brain.

Support for people living with advanced breast cancer

[[{"fid":"6714","view_mode":"default","fields":{"format":"default","field_file_image_alt_text[und][0][value]":false,"field_file_image_title_text[und][0][value]":false},"type":"media","field_deltas":{"1":{"format":"default","field_file_image_alt_text[und][0][value]":false,"field_file_image_title_text[und][0][value]":false}},"link_text":null,"attributes":{"style":"float: right; margin: 5px;","class":"media-element file-default","data-delta":"1"}}]]

Anyone with advanced breast cancer is urged to be aware of, and utilise, the supports that are currently available to them.

The Irish Cancer Society’s Cancer Nurseline is staffed by specialist cancer nurses and is on Freephone 1800 200 700. The Society also has 13 Daffodil Centres in hospitals around the country and a Living Life Programme which is a peer-support programme for people who have recently been diagnosed with secondary cancer. For more information about the programme, contact the Cancer Nurseline on 1800 200 700, by email, or use our online enquiry form.

For more information about advanced cancer, including coping with emotions, managing side effects and more, visit our dedicated section on advanced cancer.

Europa Donna Ireland facilitates a private group on Facebook called Connect MBC Network where women living with advanced breast cancer can chat confidentially with each other, share experiences, learn and find support.

The Marie Keating Foundation offers a Positive Living support group for patients living with metastatic breast cancer. Facilitated by Marie Keating Foundation’s Director of Nursing Dr Carla O’Neill, this group meets each month and discusses a range of topics which are of importance to patients and family members. For further details please call 01 6283726 or register on www.mariekeating.ie/events.

Related information

Meet some breast cancer survivors:

Read about the work being done by Irish Cancer Society breast cancer researchers.

More information about breast cancer:

Chat with other people affected by breast cancer in our online community.