Diagnosing Metastatic Cancer


If you’ve received a cancer diagnosis, your doctors will check to see if it’s metastasized to other parts of the body. This will help determine your cancer stage (Stage I-IV) and the next steps in your treatment plan.

At NewYork-Presbyterian, we may suggest certain imaging tests and procedures, including:

Blood and urine tests

Blood and urine tests can determine if certain enzymes or protein levels are elevated and rule out whether advanced cancer is in the body, including in the liver, kidney, or bones. The presence of tumor markers for ovarian, breast, prostate, and colon cancers can be found to help monitor the spread.

Blood and urine tests are not always effective, as a noncancerous condition can yield the same result as a cancerous one.

Imaging tests

Imaging tests can reveal if a tumor’s cancer cells have metastasized in other parts of the body. There are a range of imaging tests utilized, including:

  • CT scans may reveal additional tumors in the liver, lungs, or lymph nodes. They can also determine if there are abnormalities in the abdomen, pelvis, head, neck, or chest.
  • Ultrasonography (ultrasound) can tell the difference between solid masses (potential cancer) and fluid-filled cysts in the abdomen
  • MRI uses magnetic fields to pick up soft-tissue contrasts and provides a highly detailed image. It can determine metastases in areas like the brain and spinal cord.
  • Bone scans utilize a radioactive tracer, injected into the body. The tracer collects in parts of the bone and is examined by a specialized camera. The camera can pick up “hot spots,” signaling an abnormality in the bone.
  • PET scan (positron emission therapy), in which a small amount of dye containing radioactive sugars is injected into the body. Cancer cells will absorb the dye and register as bright spots, helping locate and measure tumors, and reveal abnormalities in the bone.


If a metastatic tumor is suspected, your doctor may order a biopsy. This procedure is performed by extracting a sample of cells. This can be done in various ways—by fine needle, incision, scraping, endoscopically, or laparoscopically. A pathologist will analyze cell samples to look for abnormal growth and tumor markers.

How is Metastatic Cancer Treated?


Metastatic cancer treatments can depend on where original cancer began. Meaning if cancerous liver cells have metastasized elsewhere in the body, the new site will receive the same treatment protocol used for liver cancer.

Treatment methods for metastatic cancer can include:

Metastatic cancer treatments can depend on the specific cancer type, including:

  • Brain metastasis - Cancer that has spread to the brain may be treated with radiation therapy, chemotherapy, steroid, or surgery
  • Bone metastasis - Radiation therapy may be used if the bone tissue is weak or the patient is experiencing pain. If no pain is present, drug therapy may be recommended.
  • Liver metastasis - Depending on the number of tumors and the type of cancer in the liver, treatments may include surgery, chemotherapy, image-guided interventional therapies (radiofrequency ablation/RFA), and targeted therapy
  • Lung metastasis - Treatment may include a combination of radiation therapy, chemotherapy, immunotherapy, surgery, and a thoracentesis procedure to alleviate breathing issues due to fluid build-up in the lungs
  • Breast metastasis - Often treated with hormonal therapy, in combination with targeted therapy and, occasionally, chemotherapy

Aggressive treatment options such as chemotherapy, combined with immunotherapy and targeted therapy, are typically used to treat metastatic cancers.

The cancer care team at NewYork-Presbyterian will develop a custom treatment plan to fight your cancer, care for the whole body, and provide you relief from any side effects.

Get Care

Trust NewYork-Presbyterian for Metastatic Cancer Treatment

At NewYork-Presbyterian, we understand the difficult concerns and emotions that can come with a cancer diagnosis. Our doctors and oncologists are familiar with the signs and symptoms of metastasis. Our caring multidisciplinary cancer teams are here to provide expert diagnosis and treatment options with the goal of improving your quality of life and increasing longevity.

Contact NewYork-Presbyterian to make an appointment with one of our cancer care specialists.