What Are The Diagnosis and Staging Of Breast Cancer?

There are three ways that cancer spreads in the body:

  • Through tissue: the cancer spreads from where it began by growing into nearby areas.
  • Via the lymph system: the cancer spreads from where it began by getting into the lymph system and traveling to other parts of the body.
  • In the bloodstream: like the lymph system, the bloodstream can disperse cancer cells throughout the body.

When cancer surfaces in another part of the body, the new tumor, or metastatic tumor, is the same type of cancer as the primary tumor. For example, if breast cancer spreads to the bone, the cancer cells in the bone are actually breast cancer cells. The disease is metastatic breast cancer, not bone cancer.

The following tests and procedures may be used in the staging process:

Sentinel lymph node biopsy

The sentinel lymph node is the first lymph node the cancer is likely to spread to from the main tumor. To determine which lymph node is the sentinel lymph node, a radioactive substance and/or blue dye is injected near the tumor. The substance or dye flows through the lymph ducts to the lymph nodes. The first lymph node (or nodes) to receive the substance or dye is removed, and a pathologist views the tissue under a microscope to look for cancer cells.

Additional staging scans

Some patients with later-stage breast cancer will be given CT scans, bone scans, or a PET scan in an effort to find out how far the cancer cells have spread. However, only a minority of patients require these tests.

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