Coping with secondary breast cancer

There is information on this page about the support that is available to help you cope with the emotional, practical and physical issues you might have when you have secondary breast cancer. 

Secondary cancer means cancer that has spread to other areas of your body, such as the liver or lungs. You might have a secondary cancer at diagnosis, or the cancer may have come back after previous treatment. It is also called advanced or metastatic breast cancer.

Unfortunately secondary cancer can't usually be cured. But treatment can often control the cancer and relieve symptoms.

Your doctors and nurses will help you to make the most of life and feel as good as possible for as long as possible.

How you might feel

Finding out that you can’t be cured is distressing and can be a shock. It’s common to feel uncertain and anxious. It's normal to not be able to think about anything else.

Lots of information and support is available to you, your family and friends. Some people find it helpful to find out more about their cancer and the treatments they might have. Many people find that knowing more about their situation can make it easier to cope.

    Talk to your doctor or specialist nurse to understand:

    • what your diagnosis means
    • what is likely to happen
    • what treatment is available
    • how treatment can help you

    Talking about advanced cancer

    Your friends and relatives might be able to support you and talk to you about your cancer. Sharing can help to increase trust and support between you and make it easier to plan ahead. But some families are scared of the emotions this could bring up. So they may not want to discuss it. They might worry that you won't be able to cope with your situation.

    It can strain relationships if your family or friends don't want to talk. You can help your family and friends by letting them know you would like to discuss what’s happening and how you feel.

    You might find it easier to talk to someone outside your own friends and family.

    Counselling might help you find ways of coping with your feelings and emotions. You can call the Cancer Research UK nurses on freephone 0808 800 4040, from 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday.


    Thinking about your priorities and planning what you want to do can help you to feel more in control. You might want to talk about how you want to spend your time and what is and isn’t important to you.

    Some of your future plans might no longer be realistic. But you might get round to doing something you always wanted to do but weren’t able to make time for.

    Spiritual support

    Some people find great comfort in religion. You might find it helpful to talk to:

    • a local minister
    • a hospital chaplain
    • a religious leader of your faith

    Physical changes

    Secondary breast cancer is likely to cause physical changes in your body. Community cancer nurses or symptom control nurses can help to support you at home.


    You may feel very tired or lethargic a lot of the time, especially if you are having treatment.

    Sex and relationships

    Emotional and physical changes can affect your relationships and sex life.

    Fear and anxiety

    Feelings of fear or panic can be overwhelming at times. There are things you can do to help you cope with such difficult emotions.

    Menopausal symptoms

    If you're still having periods (pre menopausal), you might have treatment to stop your body making the hormone oestrogen. This stops your periods. This may be temporary or permanent, depending on the treatment. 

    Symptoms of the menopause, such as hot flushes and sweating can be difficult to manage.

    Your doctor or nurse will talk this through with you so you know what to expect. They will help you to manage the symptoms.

    Feeling as well as you can

    It is important that you feel as well as you possibly can. Tell your doctor or nurse about any symptoms you have so they can help to control them.

    Coping financially

    You might have extra expenses due to the cancer. Your specialist nurse or GP can help you get grants for heating costs, holidays or household expenses related to your illness.

    Ask to see a social worker. They can let you know which benefits or grants you can claim and help with the claiming process.  

    Who can help?

    You can get emotional and practical support through your hospital, local hospice and GP practice. You can also get help from charities and support groups.

    Towards the end of life

    It’s natural to want to find out what is likely to happen in the last few weeks or days of life.

    You might need to choose where you want to be looked after and who you want to care for you.

    You can call the Cancer Research UK nurses if you have questions or want to talk about coping with advanced cancer. Call free on 0808 800 4040, from 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday.

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