Metastatic or Distant Recurrence Symptoms

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The most common places for metastatic breast cancer to be detected are the bones, the lungs, the liver, and the brain. The symptoms of metastatic breast cancer can be very different depending on the location of the cancer:

  • constant back, bone, or joint pain
  • difficulty with urinating (either incontinence or not being able to go); this can be a sign that the nerves in your back are being pinched by a cancer
  • numbness or weakness anywhere in your body
  • a constant dry cough
  • difficulty breathing
  • shortness of breath
  • chest pain
  • loss of appetite
  • abdominal bloating, pain, or tenderness
  • constant nausea, vomiting, or weight loss
  • jaundice (a yellow tinge to the skin and whites of your eyes)
  • severe headaches
  • vision problems (blurry vision, double vision, loss of vision)
  • seizures
  • loss of balance
  • confusion

Tests to diagnose metastatic breast cancer

If you have any of the symptoms of metastatic breast cancer, your doctor may recommend one or more of the following tests:

  • blood tests (including tumor markers in some patients)
  • whole-body bone scan, with or without X-rays of specific bones
  • MRI of the spine or brain
  • CT scan of the chest, abdomen, pelvis, and/or brain
  • PET scan
  • X-ray or ultrasound of the abdomen or chest
  • bronchoscopy if you have a constant cough or trouble breathing
  • biopsy of any suspicious area
  • a "tap," removal of fluid from the area with symptoms to check for cancer cells; a pleural tap removes fluid between the lung and chest wall and a spinal tap removes fluid from around the spinal cord

To learn more about tests used to screen for metastatic breast cancer, please visit the Breast Cancer Tests: Screening, Diagnosis, and Monitoring section.

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