A study looking at the social, physical and emotional effects of breast cancer that has spread

Cancer type:

Breast cancer





This study wanted to find out more about the social, physical and emotional effects of having breast cancer that had spread.

Many people with breast cancer are successfully treated every year. But for others, the cancer comes back and spreads to another area of the body (metastasises). When breast cancer spreads it is called secondary breast cancer, and is often more difficult to treat.

Being told you have secondary breast cancer has a big impact on you, both physically and emotionally. Living with secondary breast cancer can be very difficult. But there hasn’t been much work on the specific impact it has, or on what services women with secondary breast cancer need.

In this study the research team planned to ask 300 people a number of questions to find out more about the effects of having secondary breast cancer. They will use the results to help identify needs, develop policy and improve services.

Summary of results

The study team found that although treatment for secondary breast cancer has improved and women are living longer there was some dissatisfaction with the services provided.   

235 women with secondary breast cancer completed the questionnaires. The questionnaires asked about symptoms they had, for example pain, and how it affected them. They also asked how satisfied they were with the care they received.

Overall the researchers found that the women’s quality of life was low. They looked at the specific symptoms the women reported as affecting them ‘quite a bit’ or ‘very much’ and out of the 235 questionnaires completed

  • 89 women said lack of energy
  • 81 women said pain
  • 62 women said feeling sick (nausea)
  • 63 women said shortness of breath

They also found that the time since their diagnosis didn’t make a difference as to how bad the symptoms were. There was a small increase over time for pain, but this could have happened by chance (it was not statistically significant Open a glossary item).  

Overall the study team found that the services provided for women with secondary breast cancer were not adequate. And that there was little evidence of palliative care services. They also found that the majority of women preferred to go to the hospital and see their hospital consultant than seeing their general practitioner (GP).

Just under half the women were satisfied with the care they received. But just over half the women said they were dissatisfied with the information and advice they were given.  

The study team concluded that even though women with secondary breast cancer are living longer and treatment has improved, their satisfaction with their care is low.   

We have based this summary on information from the team who ran the trial. The information they sent us has been reviewed by independent specialists (peer reviewed Open a glossary item) and published in a medical journal. The figures we quote above were provided by the trial team. We have not analysed the data ourselves.

Recruitment start:

Recruitment end:

How to join a clinical trial

Please note: In order to join a trial you will need to discuss it with your doctor, unless otherwise specified.

Please note - unless we state otherwise in the summary, you need to talk to your doctor about joining a trial.

Chief Investigator

Professor Jessica Corner

Supported by

Breast Cancer Campaign
Breast Cancer Care
National Institute for Health Research Cancer Research Network (NCRN)
University of Southampton

If you have questions about the trial please contact our cancer information nurses

Freephone 0808 800 4040

Last review date

CRUK internal database number:

Oracle 761

Please note - unless we state otherwise in the summary, you need to talk to your doctor about joining a trial.

Harriet wanted to try new treatments

Picture of Harriet

“I was keen to go on a clinical trial. I wanted to try new cancer treatments and hopefully help future generations.”

Last reviewed:

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