Metastatic Breast Cancer Prognosis

Factors That Influence Survival Rates

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It is estimated that 155,000 women (and men) in the United States currently have metastatic breast cancer, which means that the cancer has spread to the bones, liver, lungs, brain, or other parts of the body. 

Approximately 22% of those diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer survive up to five years, but the average survival rate is only three years. Nearly 40,000 people die each year as a result of metastasis of breast cancer, and there are many more who live with advanced disease. Survival rates vary, but there are some general statistics that predict which groups are likely to have a better prognosis. 

Metastasis of breast cancer may not surface for many years after a person is first diagnosed and treated for breast cancer. Therefore, predicting the prognosis (the likely course of a disease) of metastatic breast cancer may require the medical team to look closely at factors such as the length time between initial diagnosis and metastasis, genetics, and more.

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New breast cancer treatment is aimed at improving the survival rate and increasing the longevity of those who are diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer.

Of the women with breast cancer in the United States, it’s estimated that nearly 34% have been living with metastatic breast cancer for at least five years.

What’s the prognosis?

Prognosis is considered the forecast or the likely course of a disease. In those that are incurable, the prognosis refers to how many years a person will survive once a diagnosis is made. The prognosis of metastatic breast cancer is different for each person who has breast cancer.

Prognosis depends primarily on how fast the cancer spreads throughout the body. Although there is no cure for metastatic breast cancer (also referred to as stage IV breast cancer) it is treatable. Treatment is aimed at slowing down the rate at which the cancer spreads in the body. Receiving proper treatment is one of the most important factors in the overall prognosis of metastatic breast cancer.

Stage 4 Survival Rates

To get a perspective on the difference in survival rates during different stages of cancer, according to the American Cancer Society (ACS) the rate of survival after diagnosis is:

  • For those at stage 2 (the cancer is local or has spread only to local lymph nodes) there is an expected five-year survival rate of over 90%.
  • For those at stage 3 (advanced breast cancer—the cancer has spread beyond the immediate region of the tumor and may have invaded nearby lymph nodes and muscles) there is an expected five-year survival rate of 72%.
  • For stage 4 (metastasized cancer that has spread to distant organs or other body parts) there is an expected five-year survival rate of 22%.

Because the earlier stages of breast cancer have much longer survival rates, early detection and treatment are important.

Factors Influencing Metastatic Breast Cancer Prognosis

There are several factors that can impact the prognosis of metastatic breast cancer, these include:

  • Age
  • General health
  • Hormone receptors on cancer cells
  • The type of tissue involved
  • The number of tumors/extent of metastasis
  • A person’s overall attitude and outlook on the prognosis

Of course, no factors can accurately predict the exact prognosis for a person with metastatic breast cancer. These statistics are based on many clinical research studies, looking at survival rates for people diagnosed with breast cancer at all stages. But the prognosis of each person is different, regardless of what the statistics indicate. 

Encouraging Statistics on Prognosis of Metastatic Breast Cancer

In recent years, there have been some encouraging new statistics on the prognosis of metastatic breast cancer, these include:

  • The statistics on survival rates show that women with breast cancer live longer today than ever before.
  • In the past decade, the survival rate has substantially increased, due to an improvement in early diagnosis and screening, as well as improved targeted treatment.
  • Survival rates are higher for women in higher economic groups
  • The stage of cancer at the time of diagnosis plays an impactful role in prognosis, the highest survival rate occurs in those who are still alive five years after starting treatment.


A 2015 study was conducted in the Netherlands. It involved 815 study subjects with metastatic breast cancer were divided into three groups, including:

  1. 154 participants with de novo metastatic breast cancer (a condition that occurs when metastasis is diagnosed when the breast cancer is initially detected).
  2. 176 participants with a metastatic free interval of fewer than 24 months
  3. 485 participants with a metastatic free interval of over 24 months

The study aimed to find out the prognostic impact of the various time intervals that a person had been diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer on the group's overall survival rate. 

The time between primary breast cancer diagnosis and development of cancer recurrence is reportedly a strong prognostic factor for survivors of breast cancer. The study authors concluded that the best prognosis was in those who had metastasis when first diagnosed with breast cancer and the worst prognosis was linked with those who developed metastasis after 24 months.

A Word From Verywell

Although there is no cure for metastatic breast cancer, it’s important to keep in mind that it is a treatable condition. Treatment options are aimed at slowing down the cancer’s rate of growth as much as possible, increasing the survival rate, as well as providing palliative care to support survivors, keeping them comfortable and free of side effects, for as long as possible. 

Be sure to discuss any questions or concerns you have with your healthcare provider about your specific prognosis. Don’t forget that survival rates are variable and case-dependent, everyone is different; the statistics do not apply to each individual. A lot depends on your overall outlook on life. This is a great time to get involved in a breast cancer survivor’s support group (if you have not already done so).

8 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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By Sherry Christiansen
Sherry Christiansen is a medical writer with a healthcare background. She has worked in the hospital setting and collaborated on Alzheimer's research.