Repository logo

Radiological staging in breast cancer: which asymptomatic patients to image and how.

Published version



Change log


Bowden, DJ 
Greenberg, DC 
Brown, CH 
Wishart, GC 


BACKGROUND: Approximately 4% of patients diagnosed with early breast cancer have occult metastases at presentation. Current national and international guidelines lack consensus on whom to image and how. METHODS: We assessed practice in baseline radiological staging against local guidelines for asymptomatic newly diagnosed breast cancer patients presenting to the Cambridge Breast Unit over a 9-year period. RESULTS: A total of 2612 patients were eligible for analysis; 91.7% were appropriately investigated. However in the subset of lymph node negative stage II patients, only 269 out of 354 (76.0%) investigations were appropriate. No patients with stage 0 or I disease had metastases; only two patients (0.3%) with stage II and < or =3 positive lymph nodes had metastases. Conversely, 2.2, 2.6 and 3.8% of these groups had false-positive results. The incidence of occult metastases increased by stage, being present in 6, 13.9 and 57% of patients with stage II (> or =4 positive lymph nodes), III and IV disease, respectively. CONCLUSION: These results prompted us to propose new local guidelines for staging asymptomatic breast cancer patients: only clinical stage III or IV patients require baseline investigation. The high specificity and convenience of computed tomography (chest, abdomen and pelvis) led us to recommend this as the investigation of choice in breast cancer patients requiring radiological staging.



Breast Neoplasms, False Positive Reactions, Female, Humans, Lymphatic Metastasis, Neoplasm Staging, Radiography, Thoracic, Tomography, X-Ray Computed

Journal Title

Br J Cancer

Conference Name

Journal ISSN


Volume Title



Springer Science and Business Media LLC