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Signs & Symptoms

The signs and symptoms of metastatic breast cancer will depend on the location that the cancer cells have spread to. The main sites of metastasis for breast cancer are the bone, lungs, liver, and brain.

Sometimes, metastases may be found before they have a chance to cause any symptoms. When you are diagnosed with breast cancer, including breast cancer recurrence, your health care provider will do additional tests to find out if the cancer has spread, even if you don’t have any other signs and symptoms. This is called a metastatic work-up. These tests may show that breast cancer has spread beyond the breast tissue.

Other times, changes in your health and certain signs and symptoms may prompt you to visit a health care provider. These signs and symptoms maybe the first indication that cancer is present:

Location of metastasis Signs and Symptoms
  • ​Bone pain
  • Bones that break (fracture) easily, with little or no trauma
  • High calcium levels in the blood which can cause symptoms such as fatigue, nausea, constipation, irritability, thirst and confusion
  • ​Chronic cough
  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest pain with no obvious cause
  • Loss of appetite
  • ​Fatigue
  • Loss of appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Nausea
  • Abdominal discomfort on the right side (where the liver is)
  • Jaundice (yellow colouring of the white part of the eyes and the skin)
  • Itchy skin

​The symptoms of cancer that has metastasized to the brain will depend on the location of the cancer cells and the part of your body that is controlled by that area of the brain. Symptoms that may be associated with metastasis to the brain include:

  • Headaches that are getting worse
  • Pressure in the head
  • Problems with your memory
  • Changes in your behavior or personality
  • Numbness or weakness in a part of the body
  • Feeling dizzy, uncoordinated, or falling easily
  • Problems with your vision
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Seizures

Many of these signs and symptoms can also be caused by other non-cancerous health conditions. If you develop symptoms that are persistent and cause you concern, speak to a health care provider. 


Canadian Cancer Society. Metastatic Cancer Overview. Accessed February 7, 2014.

Cancer Research UK. Symptoms of secondary breast cancer. Accessed February 7, 2014.

National Breast Cancer Foundation, Inc. Metastatic Breast Cancer. Accessed February 6, 2014.

National Cancer Institute. Metastatic Cancer. Accessed February 6, 2014.