Women's Health

The Stages of Breast Cancer

The Stages of Breast Cancer

The Stages of Breast Cancer

The purpose of stages is to give a label to how far along cancer is, and to also determine the best course of treatment at that point. The size of the cancer and whether or not it is invasive enables the doctor to determine the stage.

Stages are more than just labels

Stages are more than simply labels, but important factors in gauging how far along a cancer is, and what the proper following steps are. Just this year, the American Cancer Society has projected that there will be around 252,710 new cases of invasive breast cancer in women, and 2,470 in men. With these diagnoses, the doctor will give a specific stage that the cancer is at. Certain pathologists will utilize the TNM system, where T stands for tumor, N stands for lymph node, and M stands for whether the cancer has metastasized into other areas of the body. From there, a patient will be better able to assess how to proceed.

Early-stage breast cancer (stages 0 through 2) is the most common invasive breast cancer diagnosed in the US. Invasive ductal carcinoma, known as IDC, is the most commonly diagnosed type of breast cancers (this makes up 80% of all breast cancers). The other types of breast cancer include ductal carcinoma in situ, angiosarcoma of the breast, inflammatory breast cancer, and Paget disease of the nipple.

How breast cancer stages relate to survival rates

Breast cancer survival rates are important to understand, and as more treatments and advancements in care are discovered, survival rates increase.

The Susan G. Komen organization has stated "breast cancer stage is the most important factor for prognosis. In general, the earlier the stage, the better the prognosis will be." This is due to early identification of breast cancer being associated with early treatment, which results in higher survival rates. The ACS has stated that "the five-year relative survival rate for women with stage 0 or stage 1 breast cancer is close to 100 percent." However, that rate decreases to approximately ninety-three percent when women are diagnosed with Stage 2 breast cancer. The rate is around 72 percent for those with Stage 3. The five-year survival rate for those with Stage 4 breast cancers decreases dramatically to around twenty-two percent, when the cancer has metastasized or spread to other areas of the body. However, the ACS emphasizes that this is not cause to give up. They explain, "still, there are often many treatment options available for women with this stage of breast cancer." Recent advances give significant promise to the ability to live and manage this late-stage cancer, constantly increasing the length and quality of life.

Read on to learn more about each breast cancer stage and what it means for prognosis and quality of life.