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Stages of breast cancer

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Overview of breast cancer

Breast cancer is the growth of cancerous tumors affecting the cells of the breast. The disease normally starts in the inner lining of milk ducts or the lobules and then spreads. A breast cancer that started off in the lobules is known as lobular carcinoma, while one that developed from the ducts is called ductal carcinoma.

 

Tests to determine stage of breast cancer

National Cancer Institute says that after breast cancer has been diagnosed, tests are done to find out if cancer cells have spread within the breast or to other parts of the body. The process used to find out whether the cancer has spread within the breast or to other parts of the body is called staging, which helps determine the stage of the disease.

There are different test that can be used to determine the stage of breast cancer:

Sentinel lymph node biopsy: The institute says that biopsy of the sentinel lymph node is one of the first steps to determine the stage of breast cancer during surgery. The sentinel lymph node is the first lymph node to receive lymphatic drainage from a tumor and a biopsy will reveal the infection of cancer.

Chest x-ray: An x-ray is also of help in determining the stage of cancer. It highlights the organs and bones inside the chest cavity and helps for a better picture of any cancerous tumors.

CT scan (CAT scan): A CT scan also help detect the stage of cancer. The procedure provides a more detailed picture of the body compared to an X-ray. Sometimes a dye maybe injected to highlight the organs better.

Bone scan: This procedure uses radioactive material to detect the presence of cancer cells that has started affecting the bones.

PET scan (positron emission tomography scan): This is another procedure that used radioactive material to highlight organs. A small amount of radioactive glucose (sugar) is injected into a vein and malignant tumor cells show up brighter in the picture because they are more active and take up more glucose than normal cells.

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Stages of breast cancer

The most common system used to describe the stages of breast cancer is the American Joint Committee on Cancer (AJCC) TNM system.

The TNM staging system classifies cancers based on their T, N, and M stages:

The letter T followed by a number from 0 to 4 describes the tumor's size and spread to the skin or to the chest wall under the breast. Higher T numbers mean a larger tumor and/or wider spread to tissues near the breast.

The letter N followed by a number from 0 to 3 indicates whether the cancer has spread to lymph nodes near the breast and, if so, how many lymph nodes are affected.

The letter M followed by a 0 or 1 indicates whether the cancer has spread to distant organs -- for example, the lungs or bones.

 

Stage 1 breast cancer

Stage 1 breast cancer is split into 2 stages 

Stage 1A means that the tumor is 2cm or smaller and has not spread outside the breast.

Stage 1B means that small areas of breast cancer cells are found in the lymph nodes close to the breast and either no tumor is found in the breast or

the  tumor is 2cm or smaller

 

Stage 2 breast cancer

This is divided into two groups

Stage 2A means 

There is no tumor or a tumor 2cm or smaller in the breast and cancer cells are found in 1 to 3 lymph nodes in the armpit or in the lymph nodes near the breastbone.

or

The tumor is larger than 2cm but not larger than 5cm and there is no cancer in the lymph nodes


Stage 2B means

The tumor is larger than 2cm but not larger than 5cm and small areas of cancer cells are in the lymph nodes

or

The tumor is larger than 2cm but not larger than 5cm and the cancer has spread to 1 to 3 lymph nodes in the armpit or to the lymph nodes near the breastbone 

or
The tumor is larger than 5cm and has not spread to the lymph nodes


Stage 3 breast cancer

Stage 3 breast cancer is divided into 3 groups

Stage 3A means 

No tumor is seen in the breast or the tumor may be any size and cancer is found in 4 to 9 lymph glands under the arm or in the lymph glands near the breastbone

or
The tumor is larger than 5cm and small clusters of breast cancer cells are in the lymph nodes

or

The tumor is more than 5cm and has spread into up to 3 lymph nodes in the armpit or to the lymph nodes near the breastbone


Stage 3B means

The tumor has spread to the skin of the breast or to the chest wall, and caused swelling or ulcer– the cancer may have spread to up to 9 lymph nodes in the armpit or to the lymph glands near the breastbone. It may also be the case that the cancer that has spread to the skin of the breast may also be inflammatory breast cancer.

Stage 3C means

The tumor can be any size, or there may be no tumor, but there is cancer in the skin of the breast causing swelling or an ulcer and it has spread to the chest wall. It has also spread to

10 or more lymph nodes in the armpit 

Lymph nodes above or below the collar bone

Lymph nodes in the armpit and near the breastbone

 

Stage 4 breast cancer

In stage 4 breast cancer 

The tumor can be any size

The lymph nodes may or may not contain cancer cells

The cancer has spread (metastasised) to other parts of the body such as the bones, lungs, liver or brain.


Written by: Healthplus24 team
Date last updated: August 05, 2013