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Chest X-Ray: Part of Breast Cancer Staging

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Updated June 19, 2014

After my first two high-dose chemo cycles, I developed shortness of breath. I thought perhaps I just had some congestion, but I did let my oncologist know about it. The next time I showed up for a treatment, I was whisked away into an in-house imaging suite and told to stand still for a chest x-ray. My heart rate sped up as I removed my top and put on yet another hospital gown. Nobody would tell me why I was suddenly having a chest x-ray, so I assumed it meant my stage 2 breast cancer had gotten to my lungs.

A Chest X-Ray Is Part of Staging:

There are actually several reasons for a chest x-ray to be taken before, during, and after treatment for breast cancer. Staging of your cancer is done before treatment begins, and this affects your treatment plan and survival chances. One aspect of staging involves finding out if the cancer has spread beyond your breast. In most cases (60 to 70%) of metastatic breast cancer, the lungs are the first internal organs that becomes affected.

Your Chest Protects Important Organs:

Unlike a mammogram, which is specifically looking at your breasts' soft tissue, a chest x-ray images soft and hard tissue. Your chest x-ray doesn't just image only your chest, but everything inside it:
  • lungs
  • heart
  • large arteries in your heart
  • ribs
  • diaphragm

Reasons For A Chest X-Ray:

Before treatment begins, a chest x-ray may be done to rule out metastasis of breast cancer to your lungs. But it may also be done to determine your lung and heart capacity. After treatment begins, if you develop any breathing problems, you may need a chest x-ray to check for the possibility of pneumonia or lung inflammation. Because your immune system may be low, it is important to get help for any new conditions that develop. After you've finished treatment, your doctor may send you for a follow-up chest x-ray to make sure your cancer has not spread to your lungs, or anywhere else in your chest.

Metastatic Breast Cancer And Chest X-Rays:

In a large percentage of patients with metastatic disease, the lungs eventually are affected with breast cancer. Even if breast cancer has migrated to the lungs, it is still considered breast cancer and treated as such. If breast cancer spreads to your lungs, you will need chest x-rays to monitor the health of your lungs and the progress of your treatment. When breast cancer metastasizes to the lungs, it may initially not cause any symptoms. Typical signals of lung metastasis are dry cough and shortness of breath. Be sure to tell your oncologist if you develop these symptoms.

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Sources:
Medline Plus Medical Encyclopedia. Chest x-ray. Update Date: 7/18/2007
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