Breast cancer is given a stage when it is first discovered. The tumor’s size and extent of dissemination are determined by the stage. To determine the stage of breast cancer, doctors employ a range of tests. Imaging tests such as a CT scan, MRI, ultrasound, and X-ray, as well as blood testing and a biopsy of the afflicted breast tissue, are all options.
You’ll need to know what stage your cancer is at to obtain a better grasp of your diagnosis and treatment choices. Breast cancer that is detected in its early stages has a better prognosis than cancer that is detected later.
Stages of breast cancer
The staging method assesses if breast cancer has migrated to other regions of the body, such as lymph nodes or major organs. The TNM method of the American Joint Committee on Cancer is the most widely utilized.
Cancers are categorized using the TNM staging approach into three stages: T, N, and M.
- The letter T denotes the tumor’s size and the extent to which it has spread inside the breast and to adjacent locations.
- The number N denotes how far it has progressed to lymph nodes.
- M stands for metastasis, which refers to how far cancer has spread to distant organs.
Each letter in TNM staging is assigned a numerical value to indicate how far cancer has progressed. Following the determination of TNM staging, the data is integrated into a procedure known as “stage grouping.” The most frequent staging approach is stage grouping, in which stages run from 0 to 4. The lower the number, the more advanced the stage of cancer.
This stage refers to breast cancer that is non-invasive (“in situ”). Stage 0 cancer is referred to as ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS). Precancerous cells may have just begun to grow in DCIS, but they haven’t moved beyond the milk ducts.
This is when invasive breast cancer is discovered for the first time. The tumor is no more than 2 cm in diameter (about 3/4 inch) at this phase. Based on a variety of parameters, these breast tumors are split into two types (1A and 1B).
In Stage 1A the tumor must be 2 cm in diameter or less, and cancer must not have spread beyond the breast.
Small clusters of breast cancer cells are seen in the lymph nodes in stage 1B. Typically, no identifiable tumor is observed in the breast at this stage, or the tumor is 2 cm or less.
This stage refers to invasive breast tumors that have one of the following characteristics:
- Although the tumor is less than 2 centimeters (3/4 inch) in diameter, it has migrated to lymph nodes under the arm.
- The tumor measures 2 to 5 centimeters (about 3/4 inch to 2 inches) in diameter and may or may not have migrated to lymph nodes under the arm.
- Although the tumor is more than 5 centimeters (2 inches) in diameter, it has not migrated to any lymph nodes.
- Breast cancer bigger than 2 millimeters is discovered in 1–3 lymph nodes beneath the arm or around the breastbone, but no identifiable tumor is seen in the breast.
There are two types of stage 2 breast cancer: 2A and 2B.
In stage 2A, there is no tumor in the breast or the tumor is less than 2 cm in diameter. At this phase, cancer may be discovered in the lymph nodes, or the tumor may be bigger than 2 centimeters but less than 5 cm with no evidence of lymph node involvement.
The tumor may be bigger than 2 centimeters but less than 5 centimeters in stage 2B, and breast cancer cells have been discovered in the lymph nodes, or the tumor may be larger than 5 centimeters but cancer has not spread to the lymph nodes.
Stage 3 cancers have progressed to more breast tissue and the surrounding regions but not to other parts of the body.
- Stage 3A tumors may be any size and have migrated to one to three lymph nodes beneath the arm, or they can be any size and have spread to many lymph nodes.
- Any size stage 3B tumor has progressed to tissues around the breast, such as the skin and chest muscles, as well as lymph nodes inside the breast or under the arm.
- Stage 3C cancer is defined as a tumor that has spread:
- to 10 or more lymph nodes under the arm,
- On the same side of the body as the afflicted breast, lymph nodes above or under the collarbone, and near the neck
- lymph nodes within the breast itself, and lymph nodes under the arm on the same side of the body as the affected breast.
Breast cancer in stage 4 has spread to other regions of the body, including the lungs, liver, bones, and brain. Cancer is considered advanced at this point, and treatment choices are restricted. Because key organs are impacted, the cancer is no longer treatable. However, there are therapies available that may help you enhance and preserve your quality of life.
Because cancer doesn’t often show signs early on, it’s important to have frequent tests and alert your doctor if something doesn’t seem right. The sooner breast cancer is detected, the greater your chances of successful treatment. The news of a cancer diagnosis may be overwhelming and even frightening. Connecting with those who understand what you’re going through might make you feel better. Seek out the help of those who have been diagnosed with breast cancer.