It is always a shock to find out that a loved one or friend has breast cancer. When the news suddenly hits us personally, we are devastated and have millions of questions and uncertainties.
Breast cancer is the most common cancer after skin cancer and can occur in both men and women, but is far more common in women. Knowing more about breast cancer, the stages and the treatments, could give us more clarity on how to deal with a subject matter that we are all aware of, but choose not to think about until it affects us.
When we think of characteristics, we think of what someone looks like, how tall they are and how they behave. Breast cancer characteristics are very much the same and the stage of breast cancer is determined by characteristics, such as how large the growth is and whether or not it has hormone receptors.
Knowing the stage of the cancer will help with:
There are five stages of breast cancer; stage 0 describes non-invasive cancers that remain within their original location and stage IV describes aggressive cancers that have spread outside the breast to other parts of the body.
The most common tool that doctors use to determine the stage is the TNM system. Doctors use the results from diagnostic tests and scans to get answers to these questions:
Using the TNM system and adding a number (0 to 4) helps to describe the size and location of the tumour. Tumour size is measured in centimetres.
These results are combined to determine the stage of cancer for each person and this system is used to ensure that all doctors and treatment facilities are describing cancer in a uniform way, so that the treatment results of all people can be compared, understood and monitored.
Stage 0 is used to describe non-invasive breast cancers and that there is no evidence of cancer cells breaking out of the part of the breast in which they started and thus getting through to, or invading neighbouring normal tissue.
Read more about the treatments you can generally expect for stage 0.
Stage I describes invasive breast cancer (cancer cells are breaking through to, or invading normal surrounding breast tissue). Stage I is divided into subcategories known as IA and IB.
Stage IA describes invasive breast cancer where:
Stage IB describes invasive breast cancer where:
(If the cancer is estrogen-receptor-positive or progesterone-receptor-positive, it is likely to be classified as stage IA).
Microscopic invasion is possible in stage I breast cancer, which means the cancer cells have just started to invade the tissue outside the lining of the duct or lobule, but the invading cancer cells can't measure more than 1 mm.
Read more about the treatments you can generally expect for stage IA and IB.
Stage II is divided into subcategories known as IIA and IIB.
Stage IIA describes invasive breast cancer where:
However:If the cancer tumour measures between 2 and 5 cm and:
It will likely be classified as stage I.
Similarly, if the cancer tumour measures between 2 and 5 cm and:
It will likely be classified as stage IA.
Stage IIB describes invasive breast cancer where:
Read more about the treatments you can generally expect for stage IIA and IIB.
Stage III is divided into subcategories known as IIIA, IIIB, and IIIC.
Stage IIIA describes invasive breast cancer where either:
However:If the cancer tumour measures more than 5 cm across and:
It will likely be classified as stage IB.
Stage IIIB describes invasive breast cancer where:
It will likely be classified as stage IIA.
Inflammatory breast cancer is considered at least stage IIIB. Typical features of inflammatory breast cancer include:
Stage IIIC describes invasive breast cancer where:
However:If the above-mentioned cancer tumour measures any size and:
It will likely be classified as stage IIIA.
Read more about the treatments you can generally expect for stage IIIA, IIIB, and IIIC.
Stage IV describes invasive breast cancer that has spread beyond the breast and nearby lymph nodes to other organs of the body, such as the lungs, distant lymph nodes, skin, bones, liver or brain.
You may hear the words “advanced” and “metastatic” used to describe stage IV breast cancer. Cancer may be stage IV at first diagnosis, called “de novo” by doctors, or it can be a recurrence of a previous breast cancer that has spread to other parts of the body.
Read more about the treatments you can generally expect for stage IV.
Breast cancer in men accounts for 1% of all breast cancers and is thus rare. It is a hundred times more common in women than in men, but it does happen and men too should be made aware of possible symptoms.
Symptoms may include:
Some resources on men and breast cancer:
Accessed October 2020