What are the Symptoms of Stage 4 Breast Cancer?

In stage 4 breast cancer, the cancer cells must have spread to other organs in the body, such as the bones, liver, lungs, lymph nodes, skin, or brain.

Stages of cancer ranges from 1 to 4 and point to the extent to which the disease has spread. A doctor may also refer to stage 4 as advanced or metastatic breast cancer.


A woman with stage 4 breast cancer may experience some symptoms specific to the breast, and others that affect the whole body. Breast-related symptoms include:

  • a lump
  • pitted skin or skin that looks like orange peel
  • changes in nipple, such as inversion, flattening, and dimpling
  • soreness, inflammation, and warmth

READ ALSO: What Breast Cancer Look Like On a Mammogram

Other symptoms that may appear throughout the body include:

  • chest pain
  • weakness or numbness
  • a dry cough that is consistent
  • loss of appetite
  • Jaundice
  • Loss of balance
  • bloating
  • constant nausea
  • vision problems
  • Severe headaches
  • seizures and confusion

When breast cancer cells move to other areas of the body, they remain as breast cancer cells. For instance, breast cancer that has spread to the lungs is not lung cancer, but still breast cancer.

In stage 4 breast cancer, cancer spreads to different parts of the body in a process called metastasis. It may cause different symptoms depending on the affected parts of the body:

Bone metastasis

When breast cancer cells move into bone, this is called bone metastasis. Breast cancer mostly spread to the bone than to any other body part. Symptoms may include:

  • Recurrent bone pain
  • Sharp pain which may indicate a fracture.
  • Pain in the back and neck, trouble urinating, and weakness. These symptoms can indicate a compressed spinal cord.
  • Dehydration, nausea, and loss of appetite, which may point to high levels of in the blood due to bone breaking down.

READ ALSO: Bone Cancer: Symptoms, Causes, Types, and Treatment

Lung metastasis

Lung metastasis does not always cause symptoms, however a doctor may discover it during a CT scan, as the cells will naturally form a tumor.

If symptoms do occur, they may include:

Brain metastasis

The risk of breast cancer spreading to the brain is premier in those with HER2-positive or triple-negative breast cancer. Brain metastasis will occur in about 10–15 percent of women with stage 4 breast cancer.

Symptoms include:

  • memory problems
  • a headache
  • dizziness
  • seizures
  • stroke
  • vision problems
  • slurred speech
  • balance problems

An MRI scan will be conducted to confirm diagnosis if a doctor suspects that the cancer has moved into the brain.

Liver metastasis

Breast cancer that spreads to the liver does not always cause symptoms. A doctor may be able to diagnose liver metastasis with a blood test that measures specific enzymes and proteins in the blood. Also, an MRI, CT scan, or ultrasound will be carried out to confirm diagnosis.

If symptoms do occur, they may include:

  • fatigue and weakness
  • fever
  • discomfort and pain in the upper abdomen
  • weight loss and poor appetite
  • bloating
  • swelling in the legs
  • a yellow tint to the skin and eyes, called jaundice

In addition to a blood test, a doctor may use imaging tests, such as an

Lymph node metastasis

Lymph nodes are part of a network of tubes and glands that play an important role in the body’s immune system. The lymph system filters waste material and harmful substances from the body. It also helps to fight infections.

READ ALSO: Pancreatic Cancer: Symptoms, Causes, and Treatment

When cancer spreads, it can travel through either the bloodstream or the lymph system. If cancer starts to grow inside the lymph nodes, they may begin to feel hard or swollen.

Symptoms of lymph node metastasis can include a lump or swelling in the following areas of the body:

  • under the armpit
  • in the arm or hand
  • in the breastbone or collarbone area


Treatment for stage 4 breast cancer can include chemotherapy, surgery, and radiation.

If stage 4 breast cancer is terminal, doctors will focus on trying to relieve painful symptoms to help a person have a better quality of life.

If a breast cancer tumor is hormone receptor-positive, the doctor may suggest using hormonal therapy.

Hormonal therapy includes the use of tamoxifen, aromatase inhibitors, and other therapies to reduce estrogen production. This is because estrogen contributes to breast cancer growth.

Other targeted therapy treatments identify and attack specific cancer cells. These include:

  • monoclonal antibodies
  • tyrosine kinase inhibitors
  • cyclin-dependent kinase inhibitors
  • PARP inhibitors

When to see a doctor

If a person is experiencing any symptoms of breast cancer, they should visit a doctor immediately.

Screening is essential for catching and treating breast cancer during the early stages.

Screening involves:

  • self-examination
  • blood tests
  • imaging procedures, such as a mammogram
  • genetic testing for at-risk groups

Regular screening is especially vital if a person has certain genetic mutations or a personal or family history of cancer.

A person with stage 4 breast cancer will usually already have a team of doctors working to treat the disease and reduce symptoms. They should report any new symptoms to a doctor as soon as possible.


Disclaimer: The content provided on healthdiary365.com is purely informative and educational in nature and should not be interpreted as medical advice. Please use the content only in consultation with an appropriate certified medical doctor or healthcare professional.

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