The Stages of Breast Cancer Explained
Anyone recently diagnosed with breast cancer probably has a million questions running through their mind. As caring as the doctor must be, he or she can't possibly answer every question the patient might have. And some questions might be easily forgotten.
Staging is incredibly important for both treatment and prognosis
One of the most important aspects of diagnosis has to do with staging. Staging can get overwhelming because it sounds so complicated. Prognosis and treatment options have to do a lot with breast cancer stage.
So, it's incredibly important to understand your own staging, and what it means for you. Your doctor probably has done their very best to tell you your stage and explain how it will affect your treatment plan, but we've taken the next step to help you understand what all this staging means.
Staging reflects the size of the tumor as well as how far it has spread
Breast cancer staging always reflects the general size of your tumor. It also has to do with how invasive your disease is. The more invasive a cancer is, meaning the more aggressively it grows into the surrounding healthy tissue, the worse the disease usually is. Staging also takes into account how far cancer has spread away from the original site. This means that doctors will evaluate whether it's in the nearby lymph nodes, or if there are metastases spread far away to distant sites in the body.
Biopsies, blood tests, and imaging are all important in the staging process
All breast cancers are staged using a biopsy, where doctors take a sample of tissue for further study. Other helpful tests include blood tests and imaging, such as a PET scan. These can tell the doctor what kind of tumor you may have, and can also alert them to places where cancer had spread. By determining the stage based on all these details, the treatment decision is tailored to optimize your treatment plan. This will give you the best chance at survival.
There are 5 different stages of breast cancer
The worse stage, stage 4, means that your breast cancer has spread to far away places in your body. This could mean any organ such as your brains, or your liver, but the most common place is the bone. At this point, your doctor may refer to your disease as metastatic, which simply means that there are cancer cells that are now far away from the original place of your tumor. At this stage, breast cancer is essentially incurable, but there are treatments now that can allow patients to live for a longer time with this advanced disease.
Treatment of stage 4 breast cancer can be challenging
At stage 4, the best bet is to use chemotherapy. Some women who have hormone-sensitive tumors can use tamoxifen or an aromatase inhibitor, which affects the hormone levels and stops cancer from growing further. Other drugs also exist that target cancer cells specifically, either through a protein or enzyme that helps it grow. These drugs specifically block cancer-growing enzymes or proteins to inhibit growth. Occasionally, surgeries or radiation can help alleviate symptoms, especially if the size of the tumor is becoming problematic or painful.
Read on to learn more about the other stages of breast cancer and what they really mean.