How Long Do You Have to Live with Stage 4 Breast Cancer?

Ask a Doctor

My aunt was diagnosed with stage 4 breast cancer, and the doctors say it will be fatal. How long do you have to live with stage 4 breast cancer? What is the average life span for someone with breast cancer at this stage?

Doctor's Response

I’m sorry to hear about your aunt, and I hope her care providers are managing her symptoms enough to make her comfortable.

Survival rates for breast cancer depend upon the extent to which the cancer has spread and the treatment received. Statistics for survival are based upon women who were diagnosed years ago, and since therapies are constantly improving, current survival rates may be even higher.

Statistics are often reported as five-year survival rates by stage of the tumor. The following statistics from the National Cancer Data Base reflect patients who were diagnosed with breast cancer in the past:

Breast Cancer Five-Year Observed Relative Survival Rates (meaning what is the likelihood that a patient will still be alive five years later as compared to someone who has never had breast cancer)
Breast Cancer StageFive-Year Survival Rate
0100%
I100%
II93%
III72%
IV22%

Clinical trials are always ongoing to test new treatment regimens and to determine the appropriate length of treatment (see clinicaltrials.gov). Studies are also ongoing to test which types of radiation therapy and which schedules for radiation therapy are most effective. Other studies are focused on discovering the optimal length of treatment with hormone therapy and the optimum drug choices for hormone therapy in pre- and postmenopausal women. New drugs and new targeted therapies are under investigation as well.

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References
REFERENCES:

American Cancer Society. "Breast Cancer Overview." <http://www.cancer.org/cancer/breastcancer/overviewguide/>.

Stopeck, Alison T. "Breast Cancer." Medscape.com. Sept. 16, 2014. <http://emedicine.medscape.com/article/1947145-overview#aw2aab6b2b7>.

United States. National Cancer Institute. "Breast Cancer." Sept. 26, 2012. <http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/wyntk/breast>.