Now that the cancer is found in your breast, it is important for your doctor to determine if it has spread to other tissues or organs of your body such as the lymph nodes in the armpit.
Staging tests – your doctor can base on the same exams performed in the diagnosis to determine the stage of the cancer. In some cases, however, additional tests are needed. Your doctor may remove several lymph nodes for microscopic analysis. After removal, the sample will be sent to a pathologist for microscopic examination to look for signs indicating metastases; in case the test is positive, you are diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer.
Knowing the stage of your breast cancer is very important for your oncologist to determine the type of treatment you must undergo. Your doctor will base on the stage of the cancer to recommend the treatment the most appropriate and capable to combat the disease. In general, breast cancer stages include the following:
Breast cancer in situ – this stage of breast cancer is commonly known as stage 0 breast cancer; it represents 20% or less of breast cancers. There are 2 types of breast carcinoma in situ.
- Lobular carcinoma in situ(LCIS) – LCIS is often detected during a mammogram. At this stage, the tumor is not considered cancerous; the scientists call it carcinoma in situ or stage 0 breast cancer. However, it is taken into consideration, for those who have lobular carcinoma have up to 25% chance of developing breast cancer in the next 25 years.
- Ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS) – also called intraductal carcinoma, DCIS is a particular form of breast cancer in very early stage that has not spread beyond the lobule. During this stage, there is no infiltration of cancer cells through the fatty breast tissue or the membranes surrounding the lactiferous. Intraductal carcinoma accounts for nearly 25% of all breast cancer diagnosis. As lobular carcinoma in situ, ductal carcinoma in situ is often detected during a mammogram
Stage I – in this early stage, the size of the tumor is usually 2 centimeters or less and the cancer has not spread outside the breast. If you are diagnosed with a stage 1 breast cancer, you are more likely to be cured.
Stage II – a stage 2 breast cancer can presents in three different characteristics:
- Stage IIA breast cancer – the size of the tumor remains less than or equal to 2 centimeters but has spread to axillary lymph nodes in the armpits.
- Stage IIB breast cancer– the cancer has a size between 2 and 5 cm with or without having spread to lymph nodes in the armpit
- Stage IIC breast cancer – the size of the cancer is more than 5 cm but it has not spread to lymph nodes in the armpit.
Stage III – the specialists in ecology divide stage III breast cancer in three substages (categories): stage IIIA, IIIB and IIIC.
- Stage IIIA breast cancer – during stage IIIA, 1) the extension of the cancer is less than 5 centimeters and has spread to axillary lymph nodes and the lymph nodes are connected with each other or with other structures. 2) The size of the cancer is greater than 5 centimeters and has spread to axillary lymph nodes.
- Stage IIIB breast cancer – during stage IIIB, in the other hand, 1) The cancer has spread to nearby tissues of the breast (chest wall, ribs, chest muscles, etc..). 2) The cancer has spread to lymph nodes inside the chest wall. At this stage, your survival chances decrease.
- Stage IIIC breast cancer – the cancer can be of any size, and has spread to: 1) 10 or more lymph nodes under the arm; 2) lymph nodes above or beneath the collarbone and near the neck; 3) lymph nodes under the arm.
Stage IV: this final stage indicates a very advanced breast cancer. The cancer has metastasized to other organs of the body such as bones, lungs, brain, etc. The tumor may be extended locally to the skin and internal lymph nodes in the neck.
Recurrence – a breast cancer is considered as recurrent when it returns after treatment. The cancer can develop in the original location or in other sites. In general, a recurrent breast cancer is more difficult to be eradicated; survival chances decrease considerably.