The Who, What, Where, When and Sometimes, Why.

Tests for Metastases in People Newly Diagnosed with Breast Cancer

Metastasis occurs when breast cancer spreads beyond the breast and nearby lymph nodes to other organs in the body (most often the bones, lungs, liver or brain).

Most people newly diagnosed with breast cancer don’t need tests to check for metastases. If you’ve been diagnosed with early breast cancer (stage I or stage II) you probably won’t have these tests.

When are tests for metastases done?

If the breast cancer has spread to the lymph nodes in the underarm area (the axillary lymph nodes) or you’ve been diagnosed with locally advanced breast cancer or inflammatory breast cancer, you may need tests for metastases.

What tests may be done?

The main tests for metastases are:

  • Blood tests to check for spread to the liver or bones
  • Bone scans to check for spread to the bones
  • X-rays and/or CT scans to check for spread to the chest, abdomen or liver

Positron emission tomography (PET) and other tests for metastases (for example, MRI) may be done, depending on your symptoms and the findings from the main tests.

If the diagnosis is metastatic breast cancer

Metastatic breast cancer is also called stage IV (4) or advanced breast cancer. It’s not a specific type of breast cancer. It’s the most advanced stage of breast cancer.

Although metastatic breast cancer cannot be cured today, it can be treated.

Modern treatments continue to improve survival for people with metastatic breast cancer.

Learn about treatment for metastatic breast cancer

The following is a 3D interactive model showing metastatic breast cancer (stage IV).

Susan G. Komen® Support Resources

  • Do you need help? We’re here for you. The Komen Patient Care Center is your trusted, go-to source for timely, accurate breast health and breast cancer information, services and resources. Our navigators offer free, personalized support to patients, caregivers and family members, including education, emotional support, financial assistance, help accessing care and more. Get connected to a Komen navigator by contacting the Breast Care Helpline at 1-877-465-6636 or email to get started. All calls are answered Monday through Thursday, 9 a.m to 7 p.m. ET and Friday, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. ET. Se habla español.
  • The Komen Breast Cancer and Komen Metastatic (Stage IV) Breast Cancer Facebook groups are places where those with breast cancer and their family and friends can talk with others for friendship and support.
  • Our fact sheets, booklets and other education materials offer additional information.

Updated 12/27/23