What are the stages of breast cancer?
If you've been diagnosed with breast cancer, it is important to find out what stage it is. This information will help you and your doctors decide on your treatments and even know what to expect. Typically, there are various ways that the doctors may use to find out what stage of breast cancer one is having. Indications from physical exams, X-rays, biopsies, bone scans and blood tests are helpful in showing the stage of the breast cancer. A report from the pathologist is vital since it will comprise of information that will be used to determine the stage of the breast cancer and even discover if it is limited to one area in the breast, or if it has spread to healthy tissues inside the breast or to other parts of the body.
So what are the breast cancer stages?
The stages are numbered from 0 to IV. Generally the higher the number, the more advanced the cancer. Most often than not, the cancer stages are followed by alphabetical grading either A, B, or C.
Stage 0: This is the stage which cancer has been diagnosed early. In most cases, it means that the cancer begun in the breast ducts or the milk glands and has stayed there. In stage 0, there is no indication of cancer cells or non-cancerous abnormal cells breaking out of the part of the breast in which they began, or getting through to or invading neighboring normal tissue.
Stage I: At this stage, breast cancer is called invasive. This means that it has broken
· Stage IA indicates that
a) the tumor measures up to 2 centimeters (cm) and
b) the cancer has not spread outside the breast; no lymph nodes are involved
· Stage IB indicates that there is the presence of some cancer cells, but only small amounts, have been spotted in a few lymph nodes. This also means that the cancer cells are able to attack healthy tissue.
In general, stage IB defines invasive breast cancer where:
a) there is no tumor in the breast; instead, small groups of cancer cells — larger than 0.2 millimeter (mm) but not larger than 2 mm — are found in the lymph nodes or
b) there is a tumor in the breast that is no larger than 2 cm, and there are small groups of cancer cells — larger than 0.2 mm but not larger than 2 mm — in the lymph nodes
Stage II means that the cancer has either grown, spread, or both.
· Stage IIA means that tumor in the breast is still small, if there's one at all. There may be no cancer in the lymph nodes, or it may have spread to as many as three.
· Stage IIB
a) the tumor is larger than 2 cm but no larger than 5 centimeters; small groups of breast cancer cells — larger than 0.2 mm but not larger than 2 mm — are found in the lymph nodes or
b) the tumor is larger than 2 cm but no larger than 5 cm; cancer has spread to 1 to 3 axillary lymph nodes or to lymph nodes near the breastbone (found during a sentinel node biopsy) or
c) the tumor is larger than 5 cm but has not spread to the axillary lymph nodes
Stage III. It is mainly categories in three subcategories A, B and C. At this stage, the cancer has not spread to bones or organs, but it’s considered advanced, and it’s harder to fight.
· IIIA means the cancer has been found in up to nine of the lymph nodes that form a chain from your underarm to your collarbone. Or it has spread to or enlarged the lymph nodes deep in your breast. In some cases there is a large tumor in the breast, but other times there’s no tumor.
· IIIB means the tumor has grown into the chest wall or skin around your breast, even if it hasn’t spread to the lymph nodes.
· IIIC means cancer has been found in 10 or more lymph nodes, or has spread above or below your collarbone. It’s also IIIC if fewer lymph nodes outside the breast are affected but those inside it are enlarged or cancerous.
Stage IV defines aggressive breast cancer that has spread away from the breast and nearby lymph nodes to other organs of the body, such as the lungs, distant lymph nodes, skin, bones, liver, or the brain. This stage is termed as “metastatic,” meaning it has spread beyond the region of the body where it was first found. It can also be a recurrence of a previous breast cancer that has spread to other parts of the body.
Photo courtesy of everydayhealth.com