Breast cancer is now the most frequently diagnosed cancer and leading cause of cancer death in women worldwide. Strategies targeting the primary tumour have markedly improved, but systemic treatments to prevent metastasis are less effective; metastatic disease remains the underlying cause of death in the majority of patients with breast cancer who succumb to their disease. The long latency period between initial treatment and eventual recurrence in some patients suggests that a tumour may both alter and respond to the host systemic environment to facilitate and sustain disease progression. Results from studies in animal models suggest that specific subtypes of breast cancer may direct metastasis through recruitment and activation of haematopoietic cells. In this review, we focus on data implicating breast cancer as a systemic disease.