Breast Cancer Stages

Breast cancer is a serious disease that affects millions around the world, and in the United States alone there are more than two million men and women who have survived this cancer. The disease is almost exclusively targeted to women, but there have been cases of men with breast cancer. The determining factor on whether or not someone survives breast cancer is how soon it is caught and treated, with those receiving treatment for the disease in its later stages having a much lower survival rate than those who catch the cancer early, especially in the beginning. Lower stages indicate the earlier stages of cancer while higher numbers indicate late-stage cancers a lower possibility for full recovery. Staging breast cancer lets the doctor determine its characteristics like:

  • the size of the tumor and the location in the breast
  • if it is localized or has spread within the breast
  • if the cancer has spread in the lymph nodes under the arm
  • if the cancer has spread in other parts of the body

Stage 0- is the stage of breast cancer called Carcinoma in Situ, and is not really a stage of the cancer at all, but is the earliest point at which the cancer can be caught. Patients who are treated for breast cancer at this stage survive at least five years one hundred percent of the time and most continue as though they had never had cancer. This stage is marked by the presence of atypical cells that have not yet reached the outside of the ducts or milk producing lobules, or extended into surrounded breast tissue. This stage is often referred to for women who have a very high risk of developing cancer, as well as the detectable cancer itself.

Stage I- If the cancer is caught in the first stage, there is still a very high probability that the patient can go on and have a full and normal life cancer-free if it is caught and treated, with only two percent of patients in stage one not surviving past five years. This stage is marked by the presence of cancerous cells that are smaller than two centimeters in width and hasn’t yet spread to the lymph nodes or anywhere outside of the breast. It is sometimes referred to as invasive breast cancer.

Stage II- At this stage breast cancer still has a very high survival rate of 88%, and is determined by the size of the tumor and whether it has spread to the lymph nodes. If the cancer is larger than two centimeters, but less than five centimeters, then it is considered stage two breast cancer, as long as it has not yet spread to the lymph nodes around the area. If the cancer has spread to the surrounding underarm lymph nodes, but is not yet larger than two centimeters then it is still considered stage two breast cancer. Generally, doctors classify these into two separate types of Stage Two breast cancer, Type ‘A’ and ‘B’.

Stage III- Breast cancer is much more difficult, with only around fifty percent of those that have it surviving past five years. The third stage of breast cancer is determined by looking at the size of the tumor and where the cancer is. While stage two is reserved for cancer that is either two to five centimeters, or spread to the lymph nodes, stage three breast cancer is marked by both the larger tumors and the spreading to any of the nine lymph nodes underneath the arms. Stage three breast cancer may also spread to other areas near the breast including the chest wall, the muscles in that area or the ribs, as well as the skin. Stage III breast cancer has also different subcategories like: IIIA, IIIB, IIIC.

Unfortunately, those with Stage IV breast cancer do not usually make it very long, with the median survival rate past five years only about fifteen percent. The cancer will have usually spread to other areas of the body including important organs like: lungs, liver, brain by then and will be too widespread and advanced to treat with the therapies that are available. It is also called metastatic breast cancer, and it can be diagnosed for the first time or be caused by recurrence of a previous breast cancer spread in other areas of the body.

The goal in stage 0- III is to treat the cancer and reduce risks for recurrence, on the contrary for the fourth stage the main goal is to improve the quality of the remained life of the patient and prolong survival

There isn’t only one staging system but we talked about the most common used. Breast cancer can also be staged in a more simply manner as:

  • Local: when the cancer is confined within breast.
  • Regional: when cancer has spread in the nearby lymph nodes, like the one in the armpit.
  • Distant: when the cancer is found in other areas of the body, distant from the place where it first was found.

Another staging system is the TNM system and you can read about it here: TNM staging

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