Papers And Originals

Failure to detect intra-abdominal metastases from breast cancer: a case for staging laparotomy

Br Med J 1978; 2 doi: (Published 15 July 1978) Cite this as: Br Med J 1978;2:157
  1. J Meirion Thomas,
  2. W H Redding,
  3. R C Coombes,
  4. J P Sloane,
  5. H T Ford,
  6. J-C Gazet,
  7. T J Powles


    Two studies were performed to assess the accuracy of non-invasive methods in detecting intra-abdominal metastases from breast cancer. Firstly, the sites of spread detected at the time of first presentation with metastases were compared with the sites of spread shown at necropsy in the same patients. Although about two-thirds of the patients with bone and lung metastases at necropsy had had metastases detected at these sites when they first presented with metastases, only a third of the patients with liver metastases and none of those with other intra-abdominal metastases had had evidence of disease at first presentation with metastases. The second study confirmed a poor detection rate of liver and other intra-abdominal metastases in patients with breast cancer undergoing laparotomy and oophorectomy who were staged immediately before operation.

    Pre-mastectomy staging laparotomy should be considered in those patients with primary breast cancer who are most likely to have disseminated disease beyond the regional nodes. In the presence of occult gross metastases detected by staging laparotomy, mastectomy will not provide additional protection against loca recurrence of disease. Patients with occult gross metastases should also be excluded from studies on adjuvant chemotherapy (designed to treat micrometastases). Aggressive methods of staging are justified to protect the patient as far as possible against unnecessary mastectomy and to identify those patients who should be treated by therapeutic chemotherapy rather than adjuvant chemotherapy.