In what cases is surgery required to determine the stage of breast cancer?

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DrAttai (Physician - Surgery - Breast (Verified) ) - 05 / 09 / 2012

The stage of cancer is determined by the size of the tumor and the presence or absence of spread to the lymph nodes and other areas of the body. While often the stage can be estimated by imaging studies of the breast (such as mammogram, ultrasound, and MRI) or imaging of the body (such as CT scan, PET/CT scan, bone scan), the pathologic stage can only be determined after the tumor and lymph node(s) have been removed and have been evaluated by the pathologist. Examination under the microscope remains the most accurate way to determine if the cancer has spread to the underarm lymph nodes (assuming that they are not abnormally enlarged). If a woman has received chemotherapy prior to surgery, the "true" pathologic stage may never be known, as the tumor will often decrease significantly in size as a result of preoperative chemotherapy.
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