The Stages Of Breast Cancer
NOTE: Although a lot of this information is still valid, The American Joint Committee on Cancer has recently updated their classifications for staging breast tumors.
We will be updating all our articles on staging in the near future. In the meantime, please click HERE for a brief summary of the major changes in January 2018.
If a breast biopsy confirms that breast cancer is indeed the diagnosis, the staging process begins.
The stages of breast cancer are really the extent of breast cancer. So, in order to choose and begin the best treatment, it is necessary to stage breast cancer. The staging process shows the progression of breast cancer.
Breast cancer progresses in relatively predictable and consistent ways, so it is possible to categorize breast cancer in terms of stages.
There are basically five stages of breast cancer, with some subcategories .
Can I Speed Up Hair Regrowth After Chemotherapy
Many women wonder whether there is anything that can speed up hair regrowth.
There is some evidence that using a drug called minoxidil, which can also be found in some hair loss treatments, may help when applied to the scalp.
You can talk to your GP, a dermatologist or a trichologist about the possible use of minoxidil.
What Is A Primary Tumor
The primary tumor refers to the original breast tumor. So, any metastases are either secondary tumors, or simply metastatic breast cancer.
Note, when breast cancer spreads to the bones, it is not bone cancer, it is metastatic breast cancer in the bones.
Metastatic describes a breast cancer that has already spread to distant areas and organs of the body. Metastatic cancer is the most advanced stage of breast cancer. Furthermore, the most common sites for breast cancer to metastasize to are the:-
Once breast cancer is at this most advanced metastatic stage, the odds of completely curing the breast cancer are quite low. .
The treatment of metastatic breast cancer, after a reasonable effort, will often focus on the quality of life and relieving symptoms rather than a cure.
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Time To Treatment With Metastatic Breast Cancer
There is little research looking at the optimal time until treatment for metastatic breast cancer, though it appears that waiting more than 12 weeks has been linked with lower survival. In general, however, the goal of treatment with MBC is different than early stage disease. For most people, treatment for early-stage disease is aggressive, with the goal to reduce the risk of recurrence. With MBC, the goal is often to use the least amount of treatment necessary to control the disease.
What Makes Someone A Breast Cancer Survivor
Multiple factors affect a persons short- and long-term outlook with breast cancer. In addition to the tumor characteristics above, these factors include demographic and lifestyle factors such as:
- Age: Research suggests that women who develop breast cancer under the age of 35 years tend to have aggressive, fast-growing tumors that have often spread by the time of diagnosis. Their outlook tends to be poorer than that for older, postmenopausal women with breast cancer.
- Race and ethnicity: According to a
- 2016 review , some but not all studies on alcohol consumption among breast cancer survivors have linked drinking to increased risk of recurrence.
Although some of these factors are not modifiable, others are. Overall, research suggests that practicing healthy lifestyle factors may help reduce the risk of recurrence and improve survival among people with breast cancer.
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Stem Cell Or Bone Marrow Transplant
A stem cell transplant, sometimes called bone marrow transplant, replaces damaged blood-forming cells with healthy ones. The procedure takes place following large-dose chemotherapy or radiation therapy to kill cancer cells and to stop your stem cells from producing cancerous cells.
Stem cell transplants can be used for several types of cancer, including multiple myeloma and some kinds of leukemia.
Signs Vs Symptoms Of Cancer
Signs and symptoms of disease can be two different things:
- A sign is something that can be observed by another person, such as a change in skin color or wheezing.
- A symptom is something you feel, such as fatigue or pain, that isnt obvious to others.
The nature of cancer signs and symptoms differ greatly, depending on where the cancer is located.
Bladder cancer, for instance, causes blood in the urine, while brain cancer triggers terrible headaches.
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Timeline After Breast Cancer Diagnosis
Receiving a breast cancer diagnosis can create many feelings and emotions. Since some breast cancer diagnoses come with a bleak outlook, its common to want to start a treatment plan as soon as possible.
This article is designed to give you a comprehensive understanding of which factors play a role in your prognosis and what you should expect in the coming days, weeks and months following your diagnosis.
How Quickly Does Breast Cancer Grow
Breast cancer has to divide 30 times before it can be felt. Up to the 28th cell division, neither you nor your doctor can detect it by hand. With most breast cancers, each division takes one to two months, so by the time you can feel a cancerous lump, the cancer has been in your body for two to five years.
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Effect Of Hormonal Changes On Breasts
As women develop from pre-puberty through puberty, pregnancy and to menopause, the breasts will be affected by a variety of fluctuations in hormones.
During puberty, hormones produced by the ovaries cause growth and development of the breast. After puberty, the hormones oestrogen and progesterone will change throughout a womans monthly menstrual cycle. This may cause women to have swollen or tender breasts at different times of the month.
During pregnancy the body will produce additional oestrogen and progesterone, which trigger further growth and development of the breast to prepare mothers for breastfeeding.
Around the time of menopause , the ovaries stop producing female hormones including oestrogen. Without oestrogen, the breast tissue decreases in size. After menopause , monthly menstrual periods stop.
Take Advantage Of Patient Navigators
Though intuition would tell us that people who are insured would experience shorter delays before surgery, that doesn’t appear to be true. A large 2019 study in PLoS One looked at over 1.3 million people to see how time to initial treatment affected survival. In this study, they found that with early stage breast cancer, waiting more than 35 days between diagnosis and surgery reduced survival rates. Surprisingly, uninsured people had faster times to initiation of treatment.
While the reasons weren’t certain, it was thought that perhaps those who were insured lost precious time going through prior authorization procedures for diagnostic tests and treatment. Difficulty navigating the maze of large treatment centers may also be at play, and the authors made mention of recent clinical trials showing patient navigation could have a beneficial effect on assuring timely cancer care.
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Tnm System For Breast Cancer
Doctors also group cancers by the letters T, N, or M. Each of those letters tells you something about your cancer.
âTâ stands for tumor, or the lump of cancer found in the breast itself. The higher the number assigned after it, the bigger or wider the mass.
âNâ stands for nodes, as in lymph nodes. These small filters are found throughout the body, and they’re especially dense in and around the breast. They’re meant to catch cancer cells before they travel to other parts of the body. Here, too, a number tells you whether the cancer has spread to lymph nodes near the breast and, if so, how many.
âMâ stands for metastasis. The cancer has spread beyond the breast and lymph nodes.
What Is Secondary Breast Cancer
Secondary breast cancer is when cancer cells from a cancer that started in the breast spread to other parts of the body. The cancer that started in the breast is called primary breast cancer.Secondary breast cancer is also called advanced breast cancer or metastatic breast cancer. The most common places for breast cancer to spread to are the:
Rarely, breast cancer may spread to other parts of the body, such as the bone marrow, ovaries or lining of the tummy which is called the peritoneum.
Breast cancer can spread to different parts of the body. This does not mean it will go to all these places.
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Factors Associated With More Rapid Spread
Some types of breast cancer, as well as their subtypes, are more likely to spread than other types. For example, ductal carcinoma is more likely to spread than lobular carcinoma, among tumors that are the same size and stage.
Many breast cancers do not spread to lymph nodes until the tumor is at least 2 cm to 3 cm in diameter. Some types may spread very early, even when a tumor is less than 1 cm in size.
What Is A 5
A relative survival rate compares women with the same type and stage of breast cancer to women in the overall population. For example, if the 5-year relative survival rate for a specific stage of breast cancer is 70%, it means that women who have that cancer are, on average, about 70% as likely as women who dont have that cancer to live for at least 5 years after being diagnosed.
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What Is Metastatic Cancer
Metastatic cancer is a cancer that has spread from the part of the body where it started to other parts of the body. When cancer cells break away from a tumor, they can travel to other parts of the body through the bloodstream or the lymph system.
This image shows some parts of the lymph system, like lymph nodes and lymph vessels, as well as organs and tissues that contain many lymphocytes .
If the cells travel through the lymph system, they could end up in nearby lymph nodes or they could spread to other organs. More often, cancer cells that break off from the main tumor travel through the bloodstream. Once in the blood, they can go to any part of the body. Many of these cells die, but some may settle in a new area and start to grow.
Cancer cells must go through several steps to spread to new parts of the body:
- They must find ways to break away from the original tumor and enter the bloodstream or lymph system.
- They need to attach to the wall of a blood or lymph vessel and move into a new body part.
- They need to find ways to grow and thrive in their new location.
- They must be able to avoid attacks from the bodys immune system.
Sometimes the metastatic tumors have already begun to grow when the cancer is first found. And sometimes, a metastasis may be found before the original tumor is found. If a cancer has already spread to other parts of the body before its first diagnosed, it may be hard to figure out where it started.
Where Is The First Place Breast Cancer Spreads
The first place that breast cancer commonly spreads to outside the breast are the lymph nodes in the armpit . Surgery is usually needed to remove one or more lymph nodes to help check for breast cancer spread. This operation to remove lymph nodes in the armpit is known as axillary surgery.
Breast cancer found in the lymph nodes will impact the breast cancers staging, and the treatment plan will often be affected as well.
If cancer is found in the lymph nodes, there is a higher chance that cells have travelled through the lymphatic system and bloodstream to spread to other parts of the body. In this instance, treatment with systemic therapies, such as chemotherapy, is likely to be recommended.
If cancer is found in a large number of axillary nodes, radiotherapy may also be recommended to kill any breast cancer cells that remain in the armpit but cannot be removed by surgery.
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How Long Does It Take Breast Cancer To Grow
Every type of breast cancer varies based on individual factors and subtypes, says Dr. Roesch.
Different types of breast cancer tend to behave differently, and because every cancer is different and every person is too its hard to say exactly how quickly breast cancer can grow and spread. Still, experts understand that some types of breast cancer tend to be more aggressive and fast moving, while other types typically move slower.
Speed of breast cancer growth can be influenced by these factors:
Your cancer team will determine how likely or fast your breast cancer may spread based on your breast cancer subtype, stage and individual factors. Although breast cancer experts can hypothesis and estimate the speed of cancer growth, every breast cancer is different and distinctive to that person.
Reasons To Wait A Short While
While information suggests having surgery within a few weeks and chemotherapy within a month is ideal, there are some very good reasons why you may wish to wait a few days or a few weeks to begin treatment.
Most surgeons and oncologists will reassure you that you have some time, though there are always exceptions to that general rule . Advantages of taking some time include:
Breast Cancer Doctor Discussion Guide
Get our printable guide for your next doctor’s appointment to help you ask the right questions.
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Living With Breast Cancer
Being diagnosed with breast cancer can affect daily life in many ways, depending on what stage it’s at and the treatment you will have.
How people cope with the diagnosis and treatment varies from person to person. There are several forms of support available, if you need it.
Forms of support may include:
- family and friends, who can be a powerful support system
- communicating with other people in the same situation
- finding out as much as possible about your condition
- not trying to do too much or overexerting yourself
- making time for yourself
Find out more about living with breast cancer.
How Quickly Breast Cancer Spreads
Metastasis, the spread of breast cancer to other parts of the body, is responsible for the majority of breast cancer deaths. This makes it important to know how fast a breast cancer spreads.
Breast cancer usually spreads first to lymph nodes under the arm. This is called lymph node-positive breast cancer. Breast cancer is considered early-stage and potentially curable even with the involvement of lymph nodes.
When a cancer spreads to regions such as the bones, brain, lungs, or liver, it is considered stage IV or metastatic breast cancer. This means it is no longer curable.
Most breast cancers have the potential to spread. Carcinoma in situ or stage 0 breast cancer is considered non-invasive because of its limited spread. It is potentially 100% curable with surgery.
All other stages of breast cancer are considered invasive and have the potential to spread. Spread to lymph nodes, even when early stage, is very important because it indicates the cancer’s potential to spread beyond the breasts.
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What Does Cancer Grade Mean
Breast cancers are given a grade according to:
- How different the cancer cells are to normal breast cells
- How quickly they are growing
The grade of a cancer is different to the cancer stage.
A cancers grade is determined when a doctor looks at the cancer cells under a microscope, using tissue from a biopsy or after breast cancer surgery.
Signs That Warrant An Immediate Trip To A Doctor
Some common cancer signs that should result in a visit to the emergency room or to a doctor as soon as possible include:
- coughing up mucus tinged with blood
- blood in stools or urine
- lump in the breast, testicles, under the arm, or anywhere that it didnt exist before
- unexplained but noticeable weight loss
- severe unexplained pain in the head, neck, chest, abdomen, or pelvis
These and other signs and symptoms will be evaluated. Screenings, such as blood and urine tests and imaging tests, will be used if your doctor thinks its appropriate.
These tests are done both to help make a diagnosis as well as rule out various causes of your signs and symptoms.
When seeing a doctor, be prepared to share the following information:
- your personal medical history, including all symptoms you have experienced, as well as when they began
- family history of cancer or other chronic conditions
- list of all medications and supplements you take
For some cancers that are screened for on a regular basis, survival rates tend to be high. Thats because theyre often diagnosed early on, before symptoms develop.
The 5-year survival rate for people with localized
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Signs Breast Cancer Has Spread
Your doctor may use several imaging tests to determine if your cancer has spread. An ultrasound, CT scan or MRI are the most common tests to see if cancer has spread to other organs. You may also receive a chest x-Ray to see if the cancer has reached your lungs.
For more advanced imaging, your doctor can order a PET scan in which a radioactive sugar travels through your body before images are taken where the sugar collects. Similarly, a bone scan uses a radioactive substance to determine if cancer has spread to your bones. Bone scans can pick up cancer cells that may not show on other scans.
However, it is not uncommon to not need any additional imaging to check for tumor spread. You should work with your doctor to decide which imaging, if any, is best.