Let us first understand what breast cancer is, before we begin to discuss about its different stages. Breast cancer is the accumulation of cancerous cells arising from the breast tissue. Its originating point is either the inner lining of the milk ducts called ductal carcinoma or in the lobules where the milk is produced called lobular carcinoma.
Breast cancer is predominantly a women’s disease. However, men could also be affected by it. The various treatment procedures for breast cancer include drugs, surgery, radiation and immunotherapy. The nature of the tumor determines which procedure should be suitable for the treatment.
Women mainly within the age group of 45 to 55 are prone to this disease. A large number of women in United States alone die every year due to breast cancer. Self examination and mammograms are the two most dependable ways for detecting breast cancer. Breast cancer is broken down into stages to facilitate proper diagnosis and treatment of the disease. An apt treatment procedure can be recommended based on the results of each progressive stage.
In this article I will discuss about the four stages of breast cancer.
Stages of Breast Cancer
The Precancerous Stage
Stage0 is the precancerous stage and is referred to as ductal or lobular carcinoma in situ. “In situ” means the cancer cells have not moved to areas beyond the duct, where it originated. A pathologist can very well determine this by examining the breast tissue under a microscope. At this stage the five year survival rate for the victim is 95 percent.
Early Stages of Breast Cancer
Stage 1 and Stage 2 are considered to be the early stages of breast cancer. Stage 1 breast cancer is also called invasive cancer because by now the cancerous cells begin to attack other tissues. These infected cells start infiltrating the duct wall and thus their presence is no more limited to their place of origination, which in this case is the milk ducts or lobules. The highlight of stage 1 breast cancer is the fact that the size of the tumor is less than or equal to 2 cm and the lymph nodes are still unaffected by the cancer.
The five year survival rate for the victim is 88 percent at this stage. Stage 2 breast cancers can be broken down into two categories, 2A and 2B. Now, there are two aspects to both these stages. Firstly, the cancer cells are not found in the breast area in stage2A; instead a tumor that is less than or equal to 2 cm is found in the axillary lymph nodes i.e. armpits.
Secondly, stage 2A could also involve the presence of a tumor that is as large as 5 centimeters in the breast area but, has not spread to the lymph nodes. Similarly the tumor in stage 2B could be about 2 to 5 centimeters in size that has spread to the lymph nodes, or the tumor could measure even larger than 5 cm and at the same time not spread to the lymph nodes.
Advanced Stage of Breast Cancer or Stage 3
Stage3 of breast cancer sees the further progress of this disease wherein the tumor measuring larger than 5 cm slowly spreads to the lymph nodes. This stage too is sub categorized into three stages and they are termed as 3A, 3B and 3C. All these stages determine the severity level of breast cancer. Let’s discuss them separately.
Stage 3A may not show signs of cancer in the breast. However cancer cells are found to be present in the axillary lymph nodes. Furthermore the lymph nodes become bulky and they are stuck together and/or attached to other structures in and around the breast, like the breastbone and collarbone. Stage 3A could also display a tumor measuring greater or less than 5 cm that spreads only up to the lymph nodes in the armpits.
The diagnosis of stage 3B breast cancer highlights the presence of a tumor that has spread to the tissues of the breast skin or chest wall, chest muscles and ribs. Inflammatory breast cancer is also indicated in this stage and as such the breast skin becomes red and swollen – almost resembling an orange peel in the nipple area.
Stage 3C of breast cancer may or may not display signs of cancer in the breast area. However, if the cancer is present, regardless of its size, it could very well spread to the chest wall or breast skin, the lymph nodes of the collar bone or the lymph nodes of the arm and breast bone. As such the breast cancer in stage 3C is diagnosed either as operable or inoperable. The cancer is operable when it has spread to the area around the neck and the lymph nodes of the collarbone and inoperable when found in the lymph nodes within the breast and armpits.
The Late Stage of Breast Cancer or Stage 4
This is of course the final stages of breast cancer because by now the cancer has spread or metastasized to other organs of the body. At this stage the size of the cancer or the fact that the cancer has spread to the lymph nodes underneath the arms/breast bone, hardly matters as it slowly begins to attack other important organs of the body like the bones, liver, lungs and brain and is termed as incurable. The five year survival rate at this stage comes down to 20 percent. Therefore, the main focus of the treatment is to control the symptoms at this stage, thus allowing the patient to survive longer.
It is very important to keep yourself informed about the four phases of breast cancer as they determine the life expectancy of the victim. The severity of the illness and its subsequent treatment depends upon its stage. The intensity of the treatment is considered to be light in the initial stages of the disease. However, as the cancer makes further progress the treatment gets more and more aggressive. This no doubt increases the mental and physical sufferings of the victim apart from the fact that the chances of survival deteriorates considerably.
Breast cancer, or for that matter any form of cancer can be eliminated if it is diagnosed and the treatment initiated in the early stages. At the same time let’s not forget that a strong immune system is the key to prevent the cancer from spreading any further.
Photo Credit: http://thinkcancer.com/breast-cancer-stages-and-picture/205.html