No Matter where you are in your journey, we can help.

Managing Side Effects and Supportive Care – Metastatic Breast Cancer

What is symptom management?

Symptom management aims to prevent or relieve the side effects of breast cancer and breast cancer treatment (such as pain or nausea). It’s an extra layer of care given along with treatment for the cancer.

All metastatic breast cancer treatments have possible side effects. Most people have some side effects from treatment. Many side effects can be managed, and some can be prevented. Before any treatment begins, talk with your health care provider about possible side effects and ways to deal with them.

What is supportive care (palliative care)?

Supportive care (palliative care) is all the care given to improve the quality of life for people with breast cancer (or any serious health condition). It includes symptom management as well as taking care of emotional, social and spiritual needs.

Beyond supportive care, you may also have practical needs such as childcare and eldercare.

Ashley Fernandez, living with metastatic breast cancer

“Palliative care is life-changing. They treat the symptoms and the person. It’s not end-of-life care, it’s there to make sure your day-to-day life gets better.”


Susan G. Komen® Metastatic Breast Cancer (MBC) Impact Series

Susan G. Komen’s MBC Impact Series provides people living with metastatic breast cancer and their loved ones a safe, collaborative space to gather information related to metastatic breast cancer and discover practical resources to help make decisions for improved physical and emotional health.

During the free events, you can participate in sessions with leading experts, hear from individuals living with metastatic breast cancer and gather information from wellness experts. You’ll also have the opportunity to ask our speakers questions.

To stay up to date about event topics and timing, sign up for our MBC Newsletter here. You can also learn more and register for events by visiting

Bone-strengthening therapy for people with bone metastases

The bones are one of the most common sites of breast cancer metastases. People with bone metastases are at risk of serious bone complications, including bone fractures (breaks), spinal cord compression and bone pain.

Bone-strengthening therapy lowers the risk of bone complications related to bone metastases and helps reduce bone pain.

Learn more about bone-strengthening therapy and bone metastases.

Loss of appetite and nutrition

Loss of appetite

Loss of appetite is a common problem for people with metastatic breast cancer. It can be caused by breast cancer treatment or by the cancer itself.

Stress, depression, nausea, constipation and changes in your sense of taste or smell can also affect your appetite.

Light exercise (if you’re able) may help increase your appetite.

Nutrition and unwanted weight loss

Although a loss of appetite can make it hard to eat, it’s important to get enough calories, protein and nutrients in your diet every day. Eating helps strengthen your body.

If you need help with your dietary needs, ask your health care provider if they can refer you to an oncology dietitian. Your health care provider or an oncology dietician can help you decide how many calories you need each day.

For most people with metastatic breast cancer, major weight loss isn’t a problem until the cancer is very advanced. If you’re losing weight, reach out to an oncology dietitian to make sure you’re getting the nutrients you need.

Tips to prevent unwanted weight loss

  • Eat small meals and snacks every few hours throughout the day.
  • Try not to snack close to mealtimes to avoid feeling too full before meals.
  • Limit fluids at meals to avoid feeling too full, but drink plenty of fluids at other times during the day.
  • Take high-calorie snacks with you when you’re on the go.
  • Eat your favorite foods more often.
  • Increase the calorie content of meals and snacks with healthy choices by adding oils, salad dressings, avocado, nuts, pesto and natural peanut or almond butter.
  • Sip on homemade smoothies, milk shakes or prepared liquid supplement drinks (such as Ensure and Boost).  

Watch our video on diet and nutrition tips to manage side effects during treatment for metastatic breast cancer.

For more tips on improving nutrition and loss of appetite (including recipes), visit the National Cancer Institute website.

Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center’s Cook for Your Life website has recipes, cooking videos, and nutrition and health information in English and Spanish.


Nausea is a common side effect of some breast cancer treatments.

Your health care provider will prescribe anti-nausea medications to help prevent and control nausea caused by chemotherapy or other drug therapies. They will give you instructions on how to use them.

The anti-nausea medications you get depend on the drug(s) you’re given.

Watch our video on diet and nutrition tips to manage side effects during treatment for metastatic breast cancer.

The National Comprehensive Cancer Network (NCCN) has a booklet with information on preventing and coping with nausea and vomiting.

Tips to manage nausea  

  • Eat 4-6 small meals or snacks (instead of larger meals) each day. Nausea becomes worse on an empty stomach.
  • Try to include a fat, a carbohydrate, and a protein together to help you stay fuller longer to prevent or reduce nausea.
  • Try ginger tea, ginger ale or crystallized ginger. Add fresh ginger when you’re cooking.
  • Drink lemonade or lemon water.
  • Eat bland, easy-to-digest foods that don’t have an odor, such as toast, rice or baked potatoes.
  • Eat cool or frozen foods. These may have fewer odors than warmer foods.
  • Avoid foods that are spicy, fried, very greasy or very sweet.
  • Cook and freeze meals to reheat during times when you feel nauseous. Reheating causes fewer odors than cooking.
  • Open the windows to keep fresh air flowing when possible. Use an overhead fan to decrease cooking odors.
  • Take walks or step outside to get fresh air.
  • Talk with your health care provider about complementary and integrative therapies that may help (such as acupressure, acupuncture, relaxation techniques, hypnosis, guided imagery and music therapy).


Some people report marijuana (cannabis) may be helpful for nausea and vomiting [71-72]. However, there are no studies proving marijuana is useful for cancer-related health conditions.

Marijuana isn’t legal in every state. Some states allow the use of medical marijuana and some further allow the use of recreational marijuana. If you’re considering using marijuana, check the laws in your state and talk with your health care provider.

Cannabidiol (CBD) oil is made from the cannabis plant. It does not contain the chemical in the plant that causes a “high” feeling. A recent randomized clinical trial compared the use of CBD oil to a placebo oil for the treatment of cancer-related symptoms in people with metastatic cancer, including people with metastatic breast cancer [73]. CBD oil did not relieve symptoms (including nausea, vomiting, loss of appetite and fatigue) better than the placebo oil [73].

There are different types of CBD products and it’s not known which CBD products are best.

The National Cancer Institute has more information on marijuana products, including CBD, and nausea related to chemotherapy.

Learn more about marijuana products, including CBD.


Some medications used in metastatic breast cancer care, such as those used to ease nausea or pain, may cause constipation.

If you become constipated, you may need to make some changes in your diet or take medications to promote regularity. To manage constipation, your health care provider may recommend you:

  • Eat high-fiber foods, such as fruits and vegetables
  • Increase your liquid intake (warm or hot liquids may be helpful)
  • Take a soluble fiber supplement (for example, Benefiber rather than Metamucil)
  • Use a mild laxative, such as Senna, or a stronger laxative, such as polyethylene glycol (Miralax)
  • Take a stool softener, such as docusate (Colace)

If you don’t have a bowel movement within 4 days of taking the recommended laxatives, tell your health care provider.


Some chemotherapy drugs and some HER2-targeted therapy drugs can cause diarrhea. Bowel movements may become more frequent and/or looser. You may also have cramping and gas.

Some ways to manage diarrhea are listed below. Talk with your health care provider about which over-the-counter diarrhea medication to use and take it as prescribed. If it doesn’t work, you may need prescription medicine.

Keep track of the number of bowel movements you have. If you’re having more than 4 loose bowel movements a day or the diarrhea doesn’t improve after 2 days, or if you become dehydrated or light-headed, let your health care provider know right away. These are signs the diarrhea is serious and you need medical care.

If the diarrhea improves after 1-2 days, you can eat small, regular meals again [74].

Ways to manage diarrhea

  • Eat small, bland meals, such as bananas, rice, toast, applesauce or plain pasta.
  • Include foods and drinks that have potassium, such as bananas, potatoes, apricots and some sports drinks in your diet. (You may lose potassium when you have diarrhea.)
  • Drink 8-10 large glasses of clear liquids a day. Broth and sports drinks with electrolytes are good choices.
  • Avoid milk and other dairy products.
  • Avoid acidic drinks such as orange juice and tomato juice.
  • Let carbonated soft drinks go flat before drinking them (pour the drink into a glass and let it sit for at least 10 minutes).
  • Avoid alcohol and caffeine.
  • Avoid foods that are spicy, fried, very greasy or very sweet.
  • Sit in a tub of warm water or a sitz bath to ease discomfort in the anal area.
  • Keep the anal area clean and apply a water-repellent ointment or petroleum jelly to the area. 

Adapted from select sources [74-75].


Fatigue is common with metastatic breast cancer and can greatly impact quality of life.

You may feel like you don’t have any energy and may be tired all the time. Resting may not help.

Your health care provider should check for signs of fatigue at each visit and can help you find ways to manage it.

Causes of fatigue

Many breast cancer treatments cause fatigue. Pain, depression and trouble sleeping are other common causes of fatigue [76].

For some people, fatigue is caused by anemia (a drop in red blood cell count). 

Learn about ways to manage anemia.

Managing fatigue

It’s hard to be active when you feel tired but getting some physical activity may help reduce fatigue [76-77]. Even doing exercises while seated may help [77].

You may want to ask someone to be your walking partner. Family and friends often want to help, but don’t know how. This may be a way friends and family can be there for you.

If you feel overly tired or have trouble sleeping, talk with your health care provider. Together, you can find the best ways to manage fatigue.

Although studies of ways to reduce fatigue are limited, the tips below may help [78-79].

 Tips to manage fatigue

  • Sleep at least 8 hours each night. If you nap, sleep for less than an hour.
  • Alternate tasks that take more energy with those that take less energy.
  • Plan your daily tasks to prevent doing too much in a day.
  • Let others help (for example, prepare meals and help with chores).
  • Take breaks, even when you’re having a good day.
  • Sit down to do daily tasks, such as bathing or folding laundry.

Adapted from selected sources [78-79].

Learn more about fatigue and insomnia

Anemia (low red blood cell count)

Chemotherapy can cause a drop in your red blood cell count. This is called anemia.

Anemia can cause fatigue and shortness of breath. It can also make you look pale.

Sometimes, anemia can be treated by increasing iron or folate in your diet. Severe anemia can be treated with a blood transfusion.

Growth factors, such as erythropoietin (Procrit, Epogen and Aranesp) and similar drugs can increase red blood cell count and reduce the need for blood transfusions. However, safety studies have raised questions about whether people with breast cancer should take these drugs. For more information on these studies, visit the FDA website.

Growth factor drugs increase the risk of blood clots and stroke [80-84]. They may also shorten survival [80-84]. So, they aren’t recommended for the treatment of anemia after chemotherapy ends [84].

Pain control and symptom management

Side effects from treatments and the cancer itself can affect quality of life.

Controlling pain and other symptoms (sometimes called palliative care) is an important part of metastatic breast cancer care.

Treatment may include pain medications and may target specific parts of the body.

Learn more about managing pain related to metastatic breast cancer.

Other side effects

There are many possible side effects of metastatic breast cancer treatment.

Before any treatment begins (and during treatment), talk with your health care provider about possible side effects and ways to deal with them.

Learn about:

Complementary and integrative therapies (non-drug therapies) for side effects

Talk with your health care provider about complementary therapies that may help ease some side effects, including [112]:

Learn about complementary and integrative therapies.

Pam Kohl, living with metastatic breast cancer

“Nothing is more important when living with metastatic breast cancer than to rest and learn how to pace yourself. Rest never felt comfortable to me. It felt like I was giving in or giving up. But I learned rest is part of treatment and is as important as the therapies you’re getting, and rest is helping those therapies do their work.”


Emotional well-being

Taking care of your emotional well-being is as important as tending to the physical side effects of treatment.

Talk with your health care provider about how you’re coping. They care about your overall well-being and can help you find ways to improve it. In addition to suggesting a support group, they may connect you to another member of your health care team, such as a social worker or patient navigator, for support. They may also refer you to a counselor.

For help finding resources, the call the Komen Patient Care Center at 1-877 GO KOMEN (1-877-465-6636) or email

Learn more about:

Find information for family and friends and a brochure for helpful tips for family and friends.

Managing practical needs

Throughout your care, you may face many practical challenges, including financial issues.

Financial issues

After a metastatic breast cancer diagnosis, dealing with insurance and financial issues can be overwhelming.

Whether you need help going through your insurance plan or financial assistance for medical and daily life expenses, there are resources to help you and your family.

Learn more about:

Travel, lodging, childcare and eldercare

Getting to your breast cancer treatments can be hard, especially if you don’t live near the hospital or medical center. It’s OK to ask for help.

There may be resources available if you need a ride to and from treatment or help with childcare or eldercare. Family and friends often want to help but don’t know how. These are great ways for them to get involved.

There may be some programs that help with local or long-distance transportation and lodging (if you need a place to stay overnight during treatment).

There may also be programs to help you with childcare or eldercare costs.

Learn more about:

Find other resources that offer social support and practical support.

Komen Financial Assistance Program

Susan G. Komen® created the Komen Financial Assistance Program to help those struggling with the costs of breast cancer treatment by providing financial assistance to eligible individuals.

To learn more about this program and other helpful resources, call the Komen Breast Care Helpline at 1-877 GO KOMEN (1-877-465-6636) or email

Se habla español.

After treatment for breast cancer ends

At some point, you may decide to stop active treatment for the cancer. This can happen when treatment stops showing a benefit or when it greatly affects your quality of life.

Once treatment is stopped, palliative care becomes the main focus of care, rather than just a part of treatment.

This can be a very difficult time for you and your family. Your health care provider or hospital can help you find a counselor or a support group.

Hospice can make this later stage of care as comfortable as possible.

Learn more about support groups, hospice care and other types of support.


The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has information on end-of-life planning and care, including questions you may want to ask your health care provider.

The American Society for Clinical Oncology (ASCO) has a guide for patients and their families to help make decisions on end-of-life care.


Komen Perspectives

Read our perspective on palliative care, hospice and metastatic breast cancer.*

Learn More


  • Do you need help with a metastatic breast cancer diagnosis? We’re here for you. The Komen Patient Care Center is your trusted, go-to source for timely, accurate breast health and breast cancer information, services and resources. Our navigators offer free, personalized support to patients, caregivers and family members, including education, emotional support, financial assistance, help accessing care and more. Get connected to a Komen navigator by contacting the Breast Care Helpline at 1-877-465-6636 or email to get started. All calls are answered Monday through Thursday, 9 a.m to 7 p.m. ET and Friday, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. ET. Se habla español.
  • We offer an online support community through our closed Komen Metastatic Breast Cancer (Stage IV) Group. The Facebook group provides a place where those living with metastatic breast cancer, and those who love them, can find support, friendship and information. Click the link above or visit Facebook and search for Komen Metastatic Breast Cancer (Stage IV) Group and request to join.
  • Our free MBC Impact Series provides people living with metastatic breast cancer and their loved ones a safe, collaborative space to gather information related to metastatic breast cancer and discover practical resources to help make decisions for improved physical and emotional health. To learn more and register visit
  • Our Real Pink podcast series covers many relevant topics for people living with metastatic breast cancer and caregivers.
  • Our fact sheets, booklets and other education materials offer additional information.

*Please note, the information provided within Komen Perspectives articles is only current as of the date of posting. Therefore, some information may be out of date.

Updated 06/07/24