Question: How does the doctor know if my breast cancer has spread or metastasized?
Answer: Breast cancer, like most other cancers can spread to many parts of the body.
A tumor that has actually spread and set up shop in a different part of the body is called a metastasis. And usually we talk to the patient and listen to whether you have any symptoms, any special symptoms that relate to something going wrong elsewhere in the body -- for example, pain, or lump or bump or headaches that are unusual.
It's very important to tell the doctor if you have any unusual symptoms, things that have come up that you're not used to. We're all entitled to our usual aches and pains, but if there's something that's persistent or nagging or interfering with you life that's something you need to let the doctor know.
We then use various scans to document that there are tumor cells elsewhere. For example, things like chest x-rays, bone scans, CAT scans and other specialized scans. Sometimes blood tests help us with this as well.
It's also important to know that even when the tumor hasn't obviously spread, that we give things like chemotherapy or hormone therapy to try to reduce the risk of relapse because we know that some of the time there can be microscopic tumor cells that we can't see.