A Look into the 4 Stages of Breast Cancer
Stages of breast cancer are determined by examining the characteristics of the tumor or cancerous cells after they have been removed during a biopsy or lumpectomy. This work is conducted in the lab and involves measuring the tumor or sample of cells, looking at them under a microscope and possibly conducting other tests.
In staging the cancer, your doctor or pathologist takes into consideration the size of the cancer, whether cancer is found in the lymph nodes and whether cancer is detected in other parts of the body outside the breast. Some pathologists use a system called TNM to determine the stage of cancer. This system categorizes the size of the tumor (T), lymph node involvement (N) and whether the cancer has metastasized (M) to other parts of the body. Once the lab work is complete, your cancer will be assigned a stage number.
Most breast cancers start either in a milk duct or milk lobule, structures in the breast that create milk to nurse a baby. Although this type and stage of breast cancer is generally not considered cancer, it may indicate a woman has an increased risk of developing breast cancer. Many doctors will prescribe regular screening to check on the development of this form of cancer.
The 4 Stages of Breast Cancer
1. Invasive breast cancer; These are cancers that have broken through to, or have invaded, normal surrounding breast tissue. This means the cancer has begun to grow beyond normal range and is a little further along than Stage 1 is further divided into subcategories A and B. Stage A refers to tumors up to 2 centimeters but which have not spread outside the breast. No lymph nodes are involved in stage A breast cancers. Stage B indicates that cancerous cells have been found in the lymph nodes. Cancers designated as stage B may feature a small tumor up to 2 centimeters in the breast, but not always. The key to this classification is whether the lymph nodes contain cancer cells, Breast cancer.
2. This stage signifies that the breast cancer is growing, but it is still contained in the breast or growth has only extended to the nearby lymph nodes. Stage 2 can be further categorized into stages A and B, with the size of the tumor and whether cancer has spread to lymph nodes being the distinguishing factor between these two sub levels.
Stage 2A breast cancer cases may present with no tumor, but the presence of cancerous cells in one to three axillary lymph nodes makes it a stage 2A case. Stage 2A may also refer to a tumor of less than 2 centimeters in size with cancerous cells in the lymph nodes or a tumor of 2 to 5 centimeters if cancer is not found in the lymph nodes.
Stage 2B means that that the tumor is 2 to 5 centimeters and cancerous cells have been detected in the lymph nodes. If there’s no cancer in the lymph nodes but the tumor is larger than 5 centimeters, that may be classified as stage 2B.
3. Stage 3 is considered an advanced but treatable stage of breast cancer. In these cases, “the breast cancer has extended beyond the immediate region of the tumor and may have invaded nearby lymph nodes and muscles, but has not spread to distant organs. Stage 3 can be further subdivided into stages 3A, 3B and 3C.
A stage 3A diagnosis would be applied to cases where the tumor is less than 2 centimeters and the cancer has spread to between four and nine lymph nodes. If the tumor is larger than 5 centimeters and cancer clusters are found in the lymph nodes, that would also qualify as stage 3A breast cancer, as would cases where the tumor is larger than 5 centimeters and cancer has spread to lymph nodes near the breastbone or underarm.
Stage 3B applies to any size tumor if the cancer has spread to the chest wall or breast skin and to the lymph nodes. Stage 3C is diagnosed in cases where a tumor of any size is detected if cancer is also found in 10 or more lymph nodes.
4. This is the fatal stage of breast cancer. If you’ve been diagnosed with stage 4 cancer, this means that the cancer has spread to another organ in the body, typically the brain, bones, lungs or liver. Although stage 4 breast cancer is considered incurable.