The stages of breast cancer describe the growth and spread of abnormal cells inside and outside of the actual breast structure. Medical staging is a way of grading the disease so that proper treatment can be planned and rendered; providing aggressive enough interventions to increase the chances of survival, while minimizing unnecessary risk of treatments that might not be needed to send the cancer into remission or remove it from the body via surgery.
There are 5 primary breast cancer stages and several sub-stages. These stages are determined based on the severity, spread and invasiveness of the cancer cells. It is vital for all diagnosed patients to fully understand what their grade means to them, their health and their future prognosis. Therefore, we have dedicated this essay to covering cancer grading in simple and understandable language that every patient can understand.
This patient guide examines the differences between the various grades of cancer in the breast as well as providing treatment suggestions for each stage and type of cancer discussed. There are additional diagnostic criteria related to particular amounts of cancer and number of affect lymph tissues affected for certain stages of breast cancer that are not fully detailed below, since this essay is written for a general audience.
Stages of Breast Cancer / Stage 0
Stage 0 breast cancer is the least serious type of disease process that can be discovered and treated. The most common varieties include ductal carcinoma in situ, lobular carcinoma in situ or Paget disease in the nipple.
Stage 0 cancers originate in one location of the breast and stay put. They have not yet spread to other breast tissues, nor have they spread outside of the breast in any way.
Treatment for stage 0 cancer is usually short-term and invasive. Most women undergo either lumpectomy or mastectomy to simply remove the diseased tissue or the entire breast. In some cases, radiation treatment may be applied after surgery to ensure that all cancer cells have been eradicated.
Stage 1 Breast Cancer
Stage 1 breast cancer describes neoplastic disease process that does involve the spread of cancerous cells beyond their original source location. There are 2 primary forms of stage 1 condition, with several definitions for each being accepted:
Stage 1A breast cancer is less serious than category 1B. In this grade, the cancer cells have become invasive and have begun to spread to other areas of the breast. However, they have not infiltrated the lymphatic system yet. Additionally, the primary tumor is small, measuring a maximum of 2 cm in size.
Stage 1B breast cancer is substantially worse than 1A, since cancer cells are now found in the lymphatic tissues. These cellular groups measure between .2 and 2 mm in size within the lymph structures. There may or may not be a primary tumor located within the breast itself, but if present, the size of the growth will be less than 2 cm.
Treatment for stage 1 cancer mirrors stage 0, with most women undergoing total mastectomy or lumpectomy, with or without postoperative radiation therapy. Additionally, the lymph tissue will be treated with some form of biopsy or dissection and chemotherapy considered.
Stages of Breast Cancer / Stage 2
Once again, stage 2 cancers are more serious than stage 0 or 1. There are also 2 sub-categories of stage 2 breast cancer:
Stage 2A breast cancer is the lesser category, defined by cancer growth within the breast with a primary tumor being between 2 and 5 cm in size, but no spread outside into lymphatic tissue. Alternately, stage 2A can also describe cancers where there is a smaller tumor of less than 2 cm within the breast or no primary tumor at all, but cancer cell groupings larger than 2mm are found in the lymph structures.
Stage 2B breast cancer is categorized as primary breast tumor larger than 5 cm that has not spread to other tissues. Alternately, the primary breast tumor can be in the range of 2 to 5 cm, but has also spread to lymph tissue, most often in more than one lymph structure.
Treatment for stage 2 cancers mimics those indicated for stage 1, with mastectomy/lumpectomy often being followed by radiation. Radiation is also typically utilized to treat the lymph tissue, as well as the breast tissue. Chemotherapy becomes more common in stage 2 and especially 2B cancers.
Stage 3 Breast Cancer
Stage 3 cancer is further broken down into 3 degrees of disease formation:
Stage 3A breast cancer is defined as a tumor of ore than 5 cm in size, with the addition of cancer cells being discovered in multiple lymphatic tissues. Alternately, there may be a smaller primary breast tumor, or no breast tumor at all, but a more pronounced spread of cancer cells within multiple lymph structures.
Stage 3B breast cancer is a different expression compared to the above examples. In this grade, cancer has spread upwards into the actual skin of the breast. Cancer cells will also be found in surrounding multiple surrounding lymph tissues.
Stage 3C breast cancer may entail a primary breast growth of any size or a complete lack of breast tumor. However, cancer will be discovered in more than 10 lymph nodes, including those further from the breast than in other varieties of cancer.
Treatment for type 3 cancers falls into therapies targeting type 3A and operable type 3C cancers and therapies targeting type 3b and inoperable 3C tumors.
The former variety of care for 3A and some 3C cancers will include the usual mastectomy and or lumpectomy, followed by radiation and chemotherapy in virtually all cases. Lymph nodes will be removed surgically, as well.
The latter variety of care for 3B and inoperable 3C cancers will usually be treated with preliminary rounds of chemotherapy, followed by radical mastectomy and removal of other diseased tissues. Lymphatic tissues will also be removed. Additional chemotherapy and radiation generally follow the major surgical endeavor.
Stages of Breast Cancer / Stage 4
Stage 4 breast cancer is considered metastatic, having spread to additional organs and locations in the body. Common locations for metastatic cancer to strike include the spine, brain, skeletal tissues, internal organs or skin.
Treatment for metastatic cancer will be drastic and usually involves chemotherapy, radiation and multiple surgeries in an effort to remove as much disease from the body as possible. Treatment rendered will be on a case-by-case basis, depending on the specific factors of spread demonstrated by the neoplastic process.
Metastatic cancers are the most difficult to treat effectively and also have the best chance of recurring in the same or different anatomical locations.