A breast cancer diagnosis can be all the more scarier when you don’t understand what exactly is happening in your body, and what the terminology means.
In the following list, we’ll explore the five stages of breast cancer: stage 0 to stage 4. Some stages have subcategories (like stage 2a or 2b) and some stages go by alternate names (stage 0 is also called pre-cancer and DCIS). The diagnosis is based on where the cancer began in the breast, and what other areas of the breast or body are also affected.
“Each stage represents a progression of the cancer,” the video states. “As the complexity of the cancer intensifies, so does the treatment required to fight it.”
Knowledge is power, and understanding the severity of your diagnosis can help determine the treatment choices that are best for you and your lifestyle.
Take a look at this first video to get a general overview of staging.
Stage 0 & Stage 1
Stage 0, or ductal carcinoma in situ, is also known as pre-cancer. It is a non-invasive cancer found in the linings of the milk ducts. This means the cancer cells have not even spread to neighboring tissues. Because this is the earliest stage, the cancer may be hard to detect through a mammogram or self-exams. However, the five-year survival rate for stage 0 and stage 1 is great, at close to 100%. A five-year survival rate is the percentage of patients still living five years after diagnosis. However, that rate is always increasing, since the freshest data available is from patients treated five years ago.
Stage 1 cancers are considered invasive. For stage 1a cancer, the tumor is less than 2cm in size and has spread within the breast tissue, but it has not spread to surrounding lymph nodes or outside the breast tissue.
For stage 1b cancer, the cancer meets one of two criteria. One, the tumor is less than 2cm and there are clusters of cancer cells in the lymph nodes ranging from 0.2 millimeters to 2 millimeters, but no larger. Two, there is no tumor present, but there are clusters of cancer cells in the lymph nodes ranging from 0.2 millimeters to 2 millimeters, but no larger.
Watch the video to learn more!
Stage 2a & Stage 2b
Stage 2 invasive breast cancer is divided into two categories, 2a and 2b, based on the size of the tumor (or if one is even present) and whether or not the cancer has spread to surrounding lymph nodes.
Stage 2a can be broken down into three sets of conditions; Stage 2b can be broken down into two sets of conditions.
The video explains these stages in an easy-to-understand format, so take a look!
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Stage 3a, 3b, & 3c
Stage 3 invasive breast cancer can get a little more complicated. It’s divided into three main categories: 3a, 3b, and 3c. The diagnosis for this stage is primarily based on the location of the tumor and the number of lymph nodes to which it has spread. It can also depend on the size of the tumor and if the chest wall (or skin) have been affected. The five-year survival rate for this stage is 72% (and remember, that percentage has most likely increased by now due to new and improved treatments).
Stage 3a can be broken down into two sets of conditions, and stage 3b can be broken down into two sets of conditions as well.
For stage 3c, the cancer has progressed to a point where it’s either operable or inoperable. It is operable if it has spread to ten or more axillary (or underarm) lymph nodes, or if it has spread to lymph nodes beneath the collar bone. It is inoperable if it has spread to lymph nodes above the collar bone.
Take a look at the video to learn the specifics about each subcategory.
Stage 4 is the most advanced stage of breast cancer, because it has spread to other areas of the body; most often the bones, lungs, liver, or brain. It is also called metastatic, or secondary breast cancer.
You may get an initial diagnosis of stage IV cancer if cancerous cells are in your breast tissue and have also already spread to other areas of the body; or you may be initially diagnosed with an earlier stage and then cured, but then the cancer recurs in other parts of the body months or years later. Stage IV cancer is incurable, but with treatment, a patient can still lead a long life.
Watch the video to learn more about this stage, but remember: no matter your stage, there are many treatment options available, and many women go on to live long lives after a breast cancer diagnosis.
C. Dixon likes to read, sing, eat, drink, write, and other verbs. She enjoys cavorting around the country to visit loved ones and experience new places, but especially likes to be at home with her husband, son, and dog.