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After breast cancer has been diagnosed, tests are done to find
out if cancer cells have spread within the breast or to other parts of the
The process used to find out whether the cancer has spread within the breast or to other
parts of the body is called staging.
The information gathered from the staging process determines the
stage of the disease. It is
important to know the stage in order to plan treatment. The following tests and procedures may be used in
the staging process:
Chest x-ray: An x-ray of the organs and bones inside the chest. An x-ray is a type of energy beam that can go through the body and onto film, making a picture of areas inside the body.
CT scan (CAT scan): A procedure that makes a series of detailed pictures of areas inside the body, taken from different angles. The pictures are made by a computer linked to an x-ray machine. A dye may be injected into a vein or swallowed to help the organs or tissues show up more clearly. This procedure is also called computed tomography, computerized tomography, or computerized axial tomography.
Bone scan: A procedure to check if there are rapidly dividing cells, such as cancer cells, in the bone. A very small amount of radioactive material is injected into a vein and travels through the bloodstream. The radioactive material collects in the bones and is detected by a scanner.
PET scan (positron emission tomography scan): A procedure to find malignanttumor cells in the body. A small amount of radioactive glucose (sugar) is injected into a vein. The PET scanner rotates around the body and makes a picture of where glucose is being used in the body. Malignant tumor cells show up brighter in the picture because they are more active and take up more glucose than normal cells do.
There are three ways that cancer spreads in the body.
The three ways that cancer spreads in the body are:
Through the blood. Cancer invades the veins and capillaries and travels through the blood to other places in the body.
When cancer cells break away from the primary (original) tumor and travel through the lymph or blood to other places in the body, another (secondary) tumor may form. This process is called metastasis. The secondary (metastatic) tumor is the same type of cancer as the primary tumor. For example, if breast cancer spreads to the bones, the cancer cells in the bones are actually breast cancer cells. The disease is metastatic breast cancer, not bone cancer.
the tumor is 2 centimeters or smaller. Cancer has spread
to axillary lymph nodes that are attached to each other or to other structures, or cancer has spread to lymph nodes near the breastbone; or
the tumor is larger than 2 centimeters but not larger than 5 centimeters. Cancer has spread to axillary lymph nodes that are attached to each other or to other structures, or cancer has spread to lymph nodes near the breastbone; or
the tumor is larger than 5 centimeters. Cancer has spread to axillary
lymph nodes that may be attached to each other or to other
structures, or cancer may have spread to lymph nodes near the breastbone.