Screening for Metastases in Breast Cancer

Last Modified: February 22, 2006

Share article


Question

Dear OncoLink "Ask The Experts,"

Having presented with back, shoulder and ear pain, together with loss of balance, I was referred for x-rays and scans, and metastases from the same "non-aggressive" breast cancer I suffered [with] ten years earlier were found in the bones. A prognosis of two months plus was given. I have survived three years! Might the prognosis have been better had my treatment begun upon first reporting the symptoms, that is, is life expectancy affected by promptness of diagnosis and treatment of bone or other metastases?

Answer

Kevin R. Fox, MD, Assistant Director, Clinical Affairs and Associate Professor of Hematology/Oncology at the Abramson Cancer Center of the University of Pennsylvania, responds:

In a nutshell, the type of treatment, response to treatment, and overall survival are all the same, regardless of when the treatment is initiated. In other words, the outcomes are similar for both women who are treated for asymptomatic metastases found on routine screening and women who are not treated until those metastases become symptomatic. Therefore, we no longer screen asymptomatic patients for metastases, but rather wait until symptoms develop. Ultimate outcomes are the same.