Secondary breast cancer in the lungs (2023)

1. What is secondary breast cancer?
2. What is my prognosis (outlook)?
3. The lungs
4. Newly diagnosed or concerned about any symptoms?
5. What treatments can be offered?
6. Clinical studies
7. Palliative and supportive care
8. Availability of Treatments
9. Management of symptoms of secondary breast cancer in the lungs
10. Exercise and secondary breast cancer in the lungs
11. Support for living with secondary breast cancer in the lungs

1. What is secondary breast cancer?

Secondary lung breast cancer occurs when breast cancer cells spread to the lungs. It can also be known as pulmonary or secondary metastases in the lungs.

Secondary breast cancer in the lungs is not the same as cancer that started in the lungs.

Secondary breast cancer usually occurs months or years after the primary breast cancer. But sometimes it is found at the same time as the primary breast cancer or before the diagnosis of the primary breast cancer. In this situation, breast cancer has already spread to other parts of the body, such as the lungs. This is called "de novo" metastatic (secondary) breast cancer, which means that the breast cancer has metastasized early on.

2. What is my prognosis (outlook)?

When breast cancer spreads to the lungs, it can be treated but not cured. The goal of treatment is to control and slow the spread of the cancer, relieve symptoms, and ensure the best possible quality of life for as long as possible.

After being diagnosed with secondary breast cancer, many people want to know how long they have left to live. As treatment methods have improved, more and more people are living longer after being diagnosed with secondary breast cancer. However, life expectancy is difficult to predict because each case is different and no two types of cancer are the same.

Your specialist can talk with you about the likely course (growth and spread) of your secondary breast cancer. You may be concerned if the answers are vague, but it is not possible to predict exactly how each person's disease will respond to treatment.

3. The lungs

Secondary breast cancer in the lungs (1)

The lungs occupy most of the chest area and extend from the clavicle to the abdomen (belly). They are protected by the thorax. When we inhale, our chest expands, our lungs inflate, and air is drawn in. The diaphragm is a large, dome-shaped muscle that separates the chest cavity from the abdomen (belly). It constantly expands and relaxes to support the breathing process.

The lungs are attached to the inside of the chest wall by two thin layers of tissue called the pleura. Between the two layers of tissue is a small space (sometimes called the pleural space or virtual space) that is filled with a small amount of fluid. This liquid prevents the two layers from rubbing against each other when you breathe.

Each lung is made up of sections called lobes. The air we breathe is carried into our lungs by the trachea (windpipe) which divides into tubes known as the left bronchus and right bronchus (or bronchi when we speak of both). The bronchi then divide into smaller tubes called bronchioles. At the end of the bronchioles are millions of tiny air sacs (alveoli). Here, oxygen from the breathed air is absorbed into the bloodstream, and carbon dioxide is conducted from the bloodstream into the exhaled air.

4. Newly diagnosed or concerned about any symptoms?

In the days or weeks after a diagnosis of secondary breast cancer, you may feel anxious and find it hard to think clearly.

You can read our information for humansnewly diagnosed with secondary breast cancer, including where to find support.

If you haven't been diagnosed but are concerned about a symptom, learn more aboutSigns and symptoms of secondary breast cancer.

5. What treatments can be offered?

Treatment of secondary lung breast cancer aims to relieve symptoms and slow the growth of the cancer.

(Video) Symptoms of secondary breast cancer in the lungs

Treatments can be given alone or in combination.

When deciding how best to treat you, your treatment team will consider factors such as:

  • How big is cancer in the lungs?
  • When cancer has spread to other organs.
  • Any symptoms you have
  • What treatment have you had in the past?
  • The characteristics of cancer.
  • If you are past menopause
  • your overall health

Your specialist should discuss any treatment recommendations with you and take your wishes into account. They will discuss your options, explain the purpose of your treatment, and help you weigh the potential benefits against any potential side effects you may be experiencing.

You may also be referred to the ventilation team, which specializes in treating people with respiratory problems. They can help you plan your treatment or manage your symptoms. Your treatment will continue under the direction of your regular breast oncologist, but with the involvement or advice of the other team.

Check out our tips so you can be sure you're getting the best care.

Hormone (endocrine) therapy

Hormonal therapyused to treat breast cancer which isestrogen receptor positive.

If you had a biopsy or surgery for primary breast cancer, the tissue removed will be tested to see if it is ER+. However, in some people, estrogen receptors change during the development of secondary breast cancer. Because of this, your doctor may look at a biopsy to retest your hormone receptors.


chemotherapydestroy cancer cells with anticancer drugs. Several chemotherapy drugs are used to treat secondary breast cancer. These drugs can be administered individually or in combination. The drugs offered depend on many factors, including what chemotherapy treatments you have had in the past and how long ago.

Targeted therapies (also called biologic therapies)

This is a group of drugs that inhibit the growth and spread of cancer. They target and interrupt processes in cells that help cancer grow.

The type of targeted therapy offered to you depends on the characteristics of your breast cancer.

Know the different types ofTargeted Therapy.


Radiation therapy uses high-energy x-rays to kill cancer cells. It is sometimes used to treat symptoms caused by secondary breast cancer in the lungs, such as when large lymph nodes in the center of the chest are affected. It may be given as a single dose or divided into several doses (also called fractions) over a few days.

Stereotactic radiation therapy (also known as radiosurgery or stereotactic ablative body radiation therapy)

Very precise radiation therapy may be considered for some people with a limited number of small secondary lung cancers who are in good general health and fitness. With this treatment, high doses of radiation can be delivered precisely and with minimal damage to surrounding tissue.

Stereotactic radiation therapy used to treat secondary breast cancer in the lungs may also be called the CyberKnife, which is the name of the radiation therapy machine. CyberKnife is a specialized treatment that is only available at select centers. Your treatment team can tell you if it might be right for you.


Although surgery does not cure secondary breast cancer in the lungs, it can occasionally be part of a treatment plan. Surgery is more likely to be done when the area of ​​secondary breast cancer in the lungs is very small, easily accessible to the surgeon, and there is no other secondary breast cancer elsewhere in the body.

Video Assisted Thoracoscopic Surgery (VATS)

Video-assisted thoracoscopy (VATS) is a type of surgery that allows doctors to see inside the chest and lungs. Under general anesthesia, a thin tube with a camera attached to it (known as a thoracoscope) is inserted through a small incision in the side of the chest to help the surgeon see inside. One or two more small incisions are made in the skin through which surgical instruments can be passed. It can be used to remove lung tissue for a biopsy or for aderrame pleural.

6. Clinical studies

Many breast cancer studies examine new treatments or different ways of delivering existing treatments, such as surgical techniques, chemotherapy, targeted therapies, or radiation therapy. Your specialist may talk to you about a clinical trial or, if you are interested in participating in research, may ask if there are any clinical trials you can participate in.

(Video) How long can you expect to live with metastatic breast cancer?

Read our overviewclinical trials.

Current exam lists can also be found atcancer research websiteand notNational Institute for Health Research (NIHR) website..

7. Palliative and supportive care

Palliative and supportive care focuses on symptom control and support. It is an extremely important part of the care and treatment of many people with secondary breast cancer and can greatly improve the quality of life for them and their families.

People often associate palliative care with end-of-life treatments. However, many people value it at any stage of the disease, along with medical treatment to prevent and relieve symptoms such as pain or fatigue. It can also help with the emotional, social, and spiritual effects of secondary breast cancer.

Support and palliative care teams are found in hospitals, hospices, and the community. Depending on your situation, you may be referred by your care team, your GP or a breast nurse practitioner.

8. Availability of Treatments

Some treatments for secondary breast cancer may not be routinely available on the NHS. You can still access these treatments in other ways, e.g. B. through a clinical study.

Macmillan Cancer Support has information on what to do if treatment is not available. Visit theby Macmillanor call 0808 808 00 00 for more information.

It can be frustrating and distressing when a treatment that you and your oncologist believe might benefit you is not routinely available. For help and advice on accessing treatment, you can talk to your treatment team. You can also call us toll freedirect lineat 0808 800 6000 to clarify your doubts.

learn more aboutAvailability of treatment.

9. Management of symptoms of secondary breast cancer in the lungs

difficulty breathing

One of the most common symptoms of secondary breast cancer in the lungs is shortness of breath. The medical term for this is dyspnea.

Shortness of breath is not harmful, but it can be distressing and frightening, which can make symptoms worse. You may find it uncomfortable to breathe or feel like you can't get enough air into your lungs. You may feel short of breath when you are standing or lying down, but it is usually more noticeable when you move. Still, it's nice to beas active as possible.

Difficulty breathing can have a variety of causes. For example, secondary breast cancer in the lungs can increase the risk of lung infections, which can also cause shortness of breath. In this case, it can be treated with antibiotics.


Sometimes the lymph channels in the lungs can become blocked by breast cancer cells, causing inflammation and scarring. This is called lymphangitis.

Lymph fluid cannot drain from the lungs and affects the amount of oxygen that reaches the blood. A common symptom of lymphangitis is shortness of breath. It can also cause a dry cough and occasional coughing up blood. These symptoms may be present even before you can see anything on an x-ray or CT scan.

If you have lymphangitis caused by secondary breast cancer, your doctor will usually recommend chemotherapy treatment. Steroid medications such as dexamethasone or prednisolone may also be used.

There are several practical things you can do to ease your shortness of breath. Cooling your face with cool water, using a handheld fan, or sitting by an open window may help. Sitting with your arms and elbows forward on a raised support surface may feel like you can breathe easier.

You can also findExercise can help ease shortness of breath.

physical therapy

Physical therapy can be helpful in treating shortness of breath. It can also be helpful to learn relaxation and breathing techniques to use when you start to feel short of breath. Your medical team may refer you to a physical therapist or palliative care and support team to teach you breathing exercises. Several services offer groups, classes and clinics for this purpose.

(Video) Understanding metastatic breast cancer

occupational therapy

An evaluation by an occupational therapist can provide practical solutions for dealing with shortness of breath in everyday life. You can suggest changes in the house, such as B. Put out a chair or stool to stop and rest when walking between rooms.


a lot of people thinkcomplementary therapiesand relaxation are helpful in managing shortness of breath.

If needed, your doctor may give you medicines such as lorazepam, from a group of medicines called benzodiazepines (which have sedative and muscle-relaxing properties), ventolin (a medicine that can relax the airways), or low doses of codeine or morphine to help provide relief from the sensation of shortness of breath.

Oxygen has not been shown to be a useful treatment for shortness of breath caused by breast cancer that originates in the lungs.

Psychological Support

Anxiety and a bad mood can also make shortness of breath worse. You can ask your oncologist, family doctor, nurse practitioner or palliative care worker for psychological support to help you cope.


A persistent cough is another common symptom that can be distressing and exhausting. It can be caused by the cancer itself or by an infection. Mucus can collect in the chest and throat and can be difficult to pass.

Cough medicines can help control coughing, or medicines known as mucolytics may be prescribed to loosen mucus. Your doctors may recommend a nebulizer, a device that turns liquid medicine into a mist that you can inhale through a mouthpiece. Using a nebulizer can also help loosen the mucus and make it easier to expel.

If your cough is very difficult to control, your doctor may prescribe a codeine or morphine-based medication or low-dose steroids.


Pain relief is a very important part of treatment for many people with secondary breast cancer. Once the pain is under control, many people feel less anxious and are able to eat and sleep better.

Although many people with breast cancer that starts in the lungs do not have pain, if the cancer affects the lining around the lungs (the pleura), they may experience irritation that causes pain or shortness of breath. This is usually worse when inhaling or coughing.

Most pain can be relieved or controlled. It is very important to have the pain checked regularly by the nurse or doctor to make sure it is under control.

know more about itpain and secondary breast cancer.

Derrame pleural

A pleural effusion is a collection of extra fluid between the layers of the pleura and is usually confirmed by a chest X-ray. It can develop when cancer cells spread to the pleura, causing irritation and producing fluid that can accumulate.

This can leave you out of breath, but can sometimes be relieved by removing excess fluid. A small amount can be removed by numbing the area with local anesthetic and withdrawing the fluid with a needle and syringe.

For larger amounts of fluid, a narrow drainage tube can be inserted into the pleural space under local anesthesia. It is then sewn and connected to a collection bottle. This allows the fluid to slowly drain over time (usually a few days). Leaving the drain on until the fluid has completely drained usually helps the pleura to rejoin. This process can be repeated if fluid builds up again. Sometimes a permanent drain can be inserted so that the fluid can be drained regularly and easily at home.

Sometimes after a pleural effusion is drained, another procedure called pleurodesis is performed. This involves injecting a drug or powder into the drain and letting it sit for about an hour before removing it. This is to seal the two layers of the pleura to prevent fluid from building up again.

loss of appetite and weight loss

Sometimes people with secondary breast cancer can't eat as much as usual, making it hard for them to maintain their weight and fuel their bodies. Low energy levels can affect mobility (movement) and make it difficult to control symptoms such as shortness of breath.

Loss of appetite may be due to the effects of the cancer, treatment, or anxiety. A small number of people may have difficulty swallowing.

(Video) Treatment of secondary breast cancer in the lungs

You may find it easier to eat little and often than to prepare meals. If you still feel like you're not eating enough, are losing weight, or aren't interested in eating, talk to your doctor or nurse practitioner about nutritional supplements, or seek expert advice from a nutritionist.

Under certain circumstances, medications may be prescribed to stimulate the appetite.

fatigue (extreme tiredness)

Cancer-related fatigue is one of the most common symptoms in people with secondary breast cancer.

Everyone knows what it's like to be tired sometimes, but cancer-related fatigue can be much more serious. It can come and go or be constant, and it can be distressing and frustrating.

Fatigue has many causes, from psychological factors, such as the stress of dealing with the diagnosis, to physical factors, such as treatment side effects, loss of appetite, medication use, sleep disturbances, or progression (growth and spread) of cancer. .

Fatigue can have a significant impact on your ability to cope with cancer and its treatment. It can also affect your daily activities and quality of life.

Find tips on how to do thisfatigue management.

blood clot

People with breast cancer are at increased risk of blood clots. Your risk is increased by the cancer itself and some breast cancer treatments.

There is a risk of developing a blood clot known as deep vein thrombosis (DVT). People with DVT are at risk of developing a pulmonary embolism (PE). Part of the blood clot breaks off and enters the lungs.

Blood clots can be harmful, but they are treatable, so it's important to report symptoms as soon as possible.

If you experience any of the following symptoms, contact your local emergency room, family doctor, or specialist team immediately:

  • Pain, redness/discoloration, warmth, and swelling in the calf, leg, or thigh
  • Swelling, redness or tenderness where a central catheter is inserted to deliver chemotherapy, eg. B. on the arm, chest area, or neck
  • difficulty breathing
  • chest tightness
  • Unexplained cough (or coughing up blood)

10. Exercise and secondary breast cancer in the lungs

Some people with breast cancer that is due to the lungs have no symptoms, while others have a combination of pain, nausea, loss of appetite, hiccups, tiredness, and fatigue. While physical activity can help alleviate some symptoms, it's important to listen to your body and not overexert yourself. Gentle, regular activity, such as walking, is often most effective.

If you are currently undergoing treatment, you may need to exercise at a slightly lower level. Stop if it hurts or you feel like you are working too hard.

When choosing your workout, try to focus on aerobic activities like walking, swimming, or biking. Activities like dancing and gardening can also be beneficial. You can also include some light toning or conditioning exercises, such as stretching or low-impact yoga. The most important thing is to choose something that you are sure to enjoy.

11. Support for living with secondary breast cancer in the lungs

Each person's experience of being diagnosed with secondary breast cancer is different, and each person deals with it in their own way.

For many people, the uncertainty can be the hardest part.Living with secondary breast cancer.

You may find it helpful to talk with another person who has been diagnosed with secondary breast cancer.

  • Talk to other people living with secondary breast cancer at ouronline forum
  • Meet other women with a secondary diagnosis and get information and support, all in oneLiving with the encounter with secondary breast cancer
  • live chatIt is a weekly private chat room where you can talk about whatever is on your mind.

You can also call the free Breast Cancer Now helpline on 0808 800 6000.

(Video) What is the Treatment for Metastatic Breast Cancer?


1. Metastatic Breast Cancer: Treatment and Beyond
(Dana-Farber Cancer Institute)
2. Spying On Breast Cancer Metastasis
(Albert Einstein College of Medicine)
3. Metastatic Breast Cancer: Dealing with the Emotional Fallout
(Dana-Farber Cancer Institute)
4. New Treatments for Metastatic Breast Cancer
(Dana-Farber Cancer Institute)
5. What is Metastatic Breast Cancer? | Dana-Farber Cancer Institute
(Dana-Farber Cancer Institute)
6. Choosing to Enjoy Life Despite Metastatic Breast Cancer
(American Association for Cancer Research)
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