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Home > Understanding Breast Cancer > Treatment > Factors that Affect Treatments > Tests for Metastases


Tests for Metastases


What is metastasis?

When breast cancer spreads to the lymph nodes, tests are done to check for metastasis (when the cancer spreads to other organs, such as the bones, lungs or liver). Although the cancer starts in the breast, it can be carried to other parts of the body through the lymph fluid and/or the blood. Once breast cancer spreads, prognosis is poorer.

About five percent of U.S. women have metastatic breast cancer when they are first diagnosed [32]. Most people with metastases have been treated for breast cancer in the past and that cancer has returned (recurred) and spread. Learn more about breast cancer recurrence.

Signs of and tests for metastases

Shortness of breath, chronic cough, weight loss and bone pain can be symptoms of metastases. Tests must be done to confirm or rule out metastases. The three main tests are:

  • A blood test to check for spread to the liver or bones
  • Bone scans to test for spread to the bone
  • X-ray/CT scans to test for spread to the chest, abdomen and liver

Positron emission tomography (PET) and other tests for metastases may be done, depending on a person's symptoms and the findings from the three main tests.

Updated 10/22/13

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