Tests to Find Out if Breast Cancer Has Spread (CT, PET, Bone Scan, MRI)

If you have been diagnosed with breast cancer, you might need more tests if your doctor thinks the cancer may have spread based on your symptoms, the results of your physical exam, or the size of your tumor.

Chest x-ray: This test may be done to see if the cancer has spread to your lungs.

Bone scan: This test can help show if the cancer has spread to your bones. It can show all of the bones of your body at the same time and can find small areas of cancer spread not seen on plain x-rays.

CT scan (computed tomography): A CT scan is a special type of x-ray. Pictures are taken from different angles and are combined by a computer to make detailed pictures of the organs. This test is most often used to look at the chest and/or belly (abdomen) to see if breast cancer has spread to other organs. It can also be used to guide a biopsy needle into an area of concern.

MRI (magnetic resonance imaging): This test takes pictures using radio waves and strong magnets instead of x-rays. This test can be helpful in looking at your brain and spinal cord. MRIs can be more uncomfortable than CT scans because they take longer and you need to lie in a narrow tube while the test is done.

Ultrasound: For an ultrasound, a wand that gives off sound waves is moved over the skin to take pictures of the inside of the body. A gel is often put on your skin first.

PET scan (positron emission tomography): This test uses a form of radioactive sugar. The sugar is put into a vein and travels throughout the body. Cancer cells absorb high amounts of this sugar. A special camera then takes pictures that show the areas where the sugar collected throughout the body.

The American Cancer Society medical and editorial content team
Our team is made up of doctors and master’s-prepared nurses with deep knowledge of cancer care as well as journalists, editors, and translators with extensive experience in medical writing.

Last Medical Review: June 1, 2016 Last Revised: August 18, 2016

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