Imaging bone metastases in breast cancer: techniques and recommendations for diagnosis

Lancet Oncol. 2009 Jun;10(6):606-14. doi: 10.1016/S1470-2045(09)70088-9.


Bone is the most common site of distant metastases from breast carcinoma. The presence of bone metastases affects a patient's prognosis, quality of life, and the planning of their treatment. We discuss recent innovations in bone imaging and present algorithms, based on the strengths and weaknesses of each technique, to facilitate the most successful and cost-effective choice of imaging studies for the detection of osseous metastases. Skeletal scintigraphy (bone scan) is very sensitive in the detection of osseous metastases and is recommended as the first imaging study in patients who are asymptomatic. Radiographs are recommended for the assessment of abnormal radionuclide uptake or the risk of pathological fracture and as initial imaging studies in patients with bone pain. MRI or PET-CT can be considered for cases of abnormal radionuclide uptake that are not addressed by radiography. Osseous metastases can lead to emergent situations, such as spinal-cord compression or impending fracture of a weight-bearing bone, and imaging guidelines are essential for early detection and initiation of appropriate therapy. The imaging method used in non-emergent situations, such as assessment of the ribs, sternum, pelvis, hips, and joints, should be guided by the strengths and limitations of each technique.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Algorithms
  • Bone Neoplasms / diagnostic imaging*
  • Bone Neoplasms / secondary*
  • Breast Neoplasms / diagnosis*
  • Breast Neoplasms / pathology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging / methods
  • Positron-Emission Tomography / methods
  • Tomography, X-Ray Computed / methods