What to know about breast cancer and back pain

Metastatic breast cancer may cause back pain, though it is not the only cause.

By Claire Sissons

Back pain is unlikely to be an early symptom of breast cancer, but it can be a factor in the later stages of the disease. Medication and treatment for breast cancer can also be causes. We find out more about the links between the disease and back pain.

Breast cancer is the most common cancer affecting women in the United States with 252,710estimated new cases in 2017. There is a good chance of recovery if the disease is found early.

Women aged 45 years old and above, and those who have a family history of the disease, are recommended to have breast cancer screening. All women should do a breast self-exam regularly to check for any changes that could indicate breast cancer.

Fast facts about breast cancer and back pain:

  • Pain is not usually a symptom of breast cancer in its early stages.
  • If back pain is severe or lasts more than a few days, a person should consult a doctor.
  • Pain management is advisable if breast cancer is causing pain or discomfort.

How are breast cancer and back pain linked?

Breast cancer that has reached an advanced stage is known as metastatic or stage 4 breast cancer. This classification means that cancer has spread to other parts of the body.


Back pain is one symptom of metastatic breast cancer and can appear in the later stages of the disease.

But back pain is also common in the population, and there are many other reasons for it to happen, such as pulling a muscle.

There are three key causes of back pain linked to breast cancer:

  1. Breast cancer that has spread to the bones may weaken them and cause pain.
  2. tumor that is growing can push into healthy tissue, which may be painful.
  3. Some medication and therapies used to treat breast cancer can cause back pain.


Back pain is unlikely to be an early symptom of breast cancer but could be an indication that it is spreading.

Some specific medications for the disease can be the cause of back pain if breast cancer is already diagnosed. These include:

  • Faslodex and Femara: These are hormonal therapies to control levels of estrogen.
  • Novantrone: A chemotherapy medication that kills the cancer cells.
  • Kisqali: A medication that stops the cancer cells from dividing and growing.

It may be possible to change to a different medication or therapies that do not cause back pain. A switch is not always an option, however, so a person may need to find other ways to manage their pain.

A doctor will check for advanced breast cancer with a physical examination and by asking about symptoms. If further tests are needed, the most common are:

  • CT scan: This takes X-rays of areas of the body from different angles.
  • MRI scan: This uses a machine to scan the body using radio waves.
  • Ultrasound scan: A device giving off sound waves builds a picture of the inside of the body.
  • Bone scans and positron emission tomography (PET) scans: These two tests use radioactive substances to highlight areas of cancer.

All these tests can show whether there are cancerous growths in the body that are the cause of back pain.

If advanced breast cancer is diagnosed, a doctor should give clear information and advice on treatment options and support.


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