Breast Cancer Stages – Understanding The Condition

Breast cancer develops in the tissues of the breasts and this condition can affect both men as well as women. The disease progresses in marked breast cancer stages, and effective treatment measures can be carried out based on the stage of the cancer. This is why it’s vital to learn about the stages and types of breast cancer.

breast cancer stages

There are four primary breast cancer stages and each of them has certain characteristic signs.

There are several types of breast cancer, and the most common ones are:

  • Ductal Carcinoma: The cancer develops in the milk ductus, which passes milk from the breast to the nipple.
  • Lobular Carcinoma: The cancer develops in the lobules that produce milk.

Breast cancer is one of the most common types of cancer and affects 1 in 8 women worldwide. It is also the main cause of cancer-related death in women. The prevalence of breast cancer is more in the United States of America and the United Kingdom, followed by countries like Australia, and New Zealand.

Once breast cancer has been diagnosed, several tests are carried out in order to determine if the cancer has spread inside the breast or to the neighboring tissues or organs of the body. Charting out the breast cancer stages can help in formulating a treatment plan.

The Four Breast Cancer Stages

There are four breast cancer stages overall, and they are characterized by the details provided below. Some of the stages are divided into further sub-stages too.

Stage 0

Abnormally dividing cells develop in the milk ducts and the lobules where milk is produced. This is an early stage, so the cancerous cells would not have spread to other tissues in the breast.

Stage I

This stage is further divided into 2 sub-stages:

  • Stage IA

    The cancer is in the form of a tumor that’s about 2 centimeters in length and has not spread to the neighboring tissues.

  • Stage IB

    Small lumps of cancer cells can be found in the lymph nodes. The tumor in the breast might be present (about 2 centimeters) or absent.

Stage II

This stage is again sub-divided into 2 stages.

  • Stage IIA

    In this stage, the tumor is absent in the breast. Any tumor that’s present is usually less than 2 centimeters in size. However, smaller tumors of about 2 millimeters are found in the lymph nodes near the breast bone or in 1 to 3 axillary lymph nodes. In some cases, the tumors in the lymph nodes can be between 2 to 5 centimeters in length.

  • Stage IIB

    A small group of cancerous cells, not more than 0.2 millimeters in length, can be seen in the lymph nodes. The cancer also spreads to the axillary lymph nodes, and in some cases, the tumor size can be more than 5 centimeters.

Stage III

This stage is sub-divided into 3 stages.

  • Stage IIIA

    In some cases the tumor in the breast might be absent. If the tumor is present, it might be of any size, mostly larger than 5 centimeters. About 4 to 9 axillary lymph nodes or the lymph nodes that are close to the breast bone will feature a small cluster of cancerous cells.

  • Stage IIIB

    In this stage, tumors of different sizes are often found in about 9 axillary lymph nodes and the lymph nodes that are close to the breast bone. The cancer spreads to the chest wall and other parts of the breast, causing swelling and ulcers.

  • Stage IIIC

    Tumors of different sizes affect more than 10 axillary lymph nodes, the lymph nodes above or below the collarbone, and the lymph nodes that are near the breast bone. This stage is again sub-divided into operable (when the tumor can be removed surgically) and inoperable stages (when the tumor cannot be removed surgically).

Stage IV

This is the last of the four breast cancer stages, and in this case, the cancer would have already spread to other parts of the body like the brain, bones, lungs and liver. This form of breast cancer is unfortunately not curable, although disease management measures can be adopted based on the physician’s advice.

Learning about the four different breast cancer stages can help you understand the disease better, and evaluate the treatment options. Prompt medical attention is essential when the primary symptoms are exhibited.


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