Breast cancer staging refers to the procedure of finding out the extent to which the cancer has spread once you have been diagnosed. The results of the biopsy and physical exam will determine the staging procedures that your doctor will conduct on you.
A chest x-ray is usually conducted to check whether your lungs have are already been affected by the cancer.
If a mammogram has not yet been done, extensive ones have to be done for a thorough view of your breasts.
Breast cancer can also spread to your bone therefore a bone scan has to be performed to check if any cancer is present. It is more effective compared to traditional x-ray because all the bones can be seen at the same time. The bone scan usually involves the injection of a radioactive material that is low level through your vein. The radioactive material changes color after some hours and is used by the camera to create an image of the skeleton. The areas that indicate change in color may have been affected by the cancer but this is not always a conclusive test since bone diseases can also result in a change in color. Further tests done using x-rays, MRI or CT scans can be used to determine whether the change is due to cancer or not. A biopsy of samples from the bones will also produce a conclusive result.
Computed Tomography (CT) scans are also used in breast cancer staging because they produce cross-sectional images that are detailed. The scans usually concentrate on the chest and abdomen when the doctor wants to check if it has spread to other areas apart from the breast.
The CT scans can also be used to guide the needle during a biopsy in an area that is suspected to have cancer.