Breast cancer is one of the most major ailments which affects many women worldwide. Treatment for breast cancer is crucial. However, it is equally crucial to detect the exact stage of this condition. Stages of cancer describe the size of cancer and how far it has spread.
It is important to understand the stage of cancer for the following reasons.
- To decide the treatment plan
- To know the prognosis
- Predict the chances of recurrence
The diagnosis of breast cancer can be done by medical history and physical examination, mammography, ultrasound, biopsy, blood investigations, tumour marker tests, X-ray, MRI, and so on.
The TNM system is the most common staging system when it comes to breast cancer. In TNM, ‘T’ stands for tumor or lump found in the breast, ‘N’ stands for nodes as in lymph nodes, as these can catch cancer cells before they spread to other parts of the body, and, finally, ‘M’ stands for metastasis, which is the spread of cancer to other organs of the body.
There are five stages in breast cancer ranging from 0 to 4. The greater is the stage number the more cancer has been spread.
While describing cancer, one may commonly hear doctors talking about the following terms:
1.Cancer In Situ:
This signifies the original place. Cancer cells are present only in the duct or lobule, where it has started. They have not travelled to nearby tissue. This is in stage 0.
2.Early Stage Breast Cancer:
In this stage, the size of the tumour is smaller than 5 cm, and cancer may not have been spread to more than 3 lymph nodes. This is known to include stages IA, IB, and IIA.
3.Locally Advanced Breast Cancer:
In this stage, the size of the tumour is greater than 5 cm and cancer may have spread to the skin, muscles of the chest wall, or more than 3 lymph nodes. It comprises stages IIB, IIIA, IIIB, IIIC.
4.Metastatic Breast Cancer
In the metastatic stage, cancer tends to have been spread to the other parts of the body. It includes stage IV.
To understand the different stages of cancer better, continue reading below.
- Stage 0: The cancer is in its original place where it started – In situ
- Stage I: Invasive, meaning broken free to attack healthy tissues
- Stage IA- Cancer has spread to the breast tissue, and the tumour is less than 2 cm
- Stage IB- Tumor is 2 cm or smaller. Or, no tumour is found in the breast tissue but it is found in the lymph nodes.
- Stage II: Cancer has grown and has spread too.
- Stage IIA- The tumour is either 2 cm or smaller or between 2-5 cm and the spread is just up to 3 lymph nodes.
- Stage IIB- The tumour is either 2-5 cm or more than 5 cm. Cancer has spread to 1-3 axillary or internal mammary lymph nodes.
- Stage III: Advanced breast cancer
- Stage IIIA- Either the tumour size is smaller than 5 cm and cancer has spread to 4-9 lymph nodes. Or, the tumour size is bigger than 5 cm and it has spread to 1-9 lymph nodes.
- Stage IIIB- Tumor has grown into the muscles of the chest wall, or the skin, or both. In this sub-stage, cancer may or may not have spread to the lymph nodes
- Stage IIIC- Cancer has spread to 10 or more lymph nodes. It may have also spread to the lymph nodes above or below the collar bones.
- Stage IV: Metastatic breast cancer. This means that cancer has spread beyond the region, where it was first found. The most common sites are bones, liver, lungs, and brain.
Also read: Fighting Cancer with the use of Homeopathy
Fortunately, breast cancer is treatable, if it is detected early. Localized cancer that is cancer in situ can usually be treated successfully before cancer spreads. So, get yourself examined and get the screening and investigations done the minute you notice any change in your breast.
-Written by Dr. Chetali Damania, Associate doctor to Dr. Rajesh Shah