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There are 5 stages of breast cancer, ranging from 0–4. When breast cancer progresses to Stage 3 or 4, it becomes advanced breast cancer. In Stage 3 breast cancer, the cancer has not yet spread to distant sites throughout the body, but it has spread beyond the breast and into nearby lymph nodes and muscles.
Stage 4 breast cancer (also referred to as advanced breast cancer or metastatic breast cancer) occurs when cancer that began in the breast has spread to other parts of the body. It’s important to note that regardless of where breast cancer is found in the body, it’s still breast cancer, and should not be considered as any other type of cancer. Breast cancer can metastasize in any part of the body, but it most commonly spreads to the bones, lungs, liver, or the brain.
An estimated 155,000 U.S. women are living with metastatic breast cancer.
Although it’s not always obvious when cancer has metastasized, there are certain signs and symptoms that you should be aware of.
While there is no cure for metastatic breast cancer, there are medicines available that can help slow the growth and spread of breast cancer tumors. And although a metastatic breast cancer diagnosis means that treatment will now be a part of your daily life, you do have options when it comes to managing your condition.
There’s more than one type of metastatic breast cancer. Each type is determined by whether or not certain proteins are found on or in cancer cells. These proteins include hormone receptors (HRs) and human epidermal growth factor receptor 2 (HER2). A plus sign means that your cancer has the protein, while a minus sign means that it has either a small amount of the protein or none at all.
HR+, HER2- (hormone receptor-positive, human epidermal growth factor receptor 2-negative) is the most common type of breast cancer, affecting approximately 70% of all people with metastatic breast cancer. HR+ breast cancer can also be referred to as ER+ (estrogen receptor-positive) or PR+ (progesterone receptor-positive). This means that the breast cancer is fueled by the hormone estrogen or progesterone.
Knowing your type is very important, and will help your doctor determine the treatment approach that’s right for you.