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An Explanation of Breast Cancer Staging

Photo courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net and marin
Photo courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net and marin

An Explanation of Breast Cancer Staging

If you have just been diagnosed with breast cancer, you will be anxious to learn in which stage your surgeon considers you to be, because that will more than likely determine the treatment protocol suggested for you.  Your pathology report will discuss staging

The term “staging” refers to the extent of the disease and this is based on several factors – the size of the tumor, whether any lymph nodes are involved, whether the tumor is considered to be invasive or non-invasive, and whether the cancer has spread beyond the breast.

I found a great You Tube video explaining this in detail and the animation is interesting and helpful.  It seems there is a You Tube video for everything these days!

Breast Cancer Staging

Stage 0 – The cancer cells are non-invasive, such as Ductal Carcinoma In Situ (DCIS), and there is no evidence that the cancer cells have spread into neighboring breast tissue or beyond the lobule or duct.

Stage I – This is an early stage of invasive breast cancer, divided into two classifications, IA and IB:

     IA – the tumor is up to 2 cm and the cancer has not spread outside the breast and no lymph nodes are involved.

     IB – there is no tumor in the breast but there are small groups of cancer cells, larger than 0.2 mm but not larger than 2 mm, found in the lymph nodes; OR there is a tumor in the breast that is no larger than 2 cm, and there are small groups of cancer cells, larger than 0.2 mm but not larger than 2 mm, in the lymph nodes

Stage II – Invasive breast cancer, divided into two classifications, IIA and IIB:

     IIA – There are three scenarios in Stage IIA:

  • no tumor is found in the breast, but cancer (larger than 2 mm) is found in 1-3 axillary lymph nodes (the lymph nodes under the arm) or in the lymph nodes near the breast bone (found during a sentinel node biopsy); OR
  • the tumor measures 2 cm or smaller and has spread to the axillary lymph nodes; OR
  • the tumor is larger than 2 cm but not larger than 5 cm and has not spread to the axillary lymph nodes.

     IIB – There are also three scenarios in Stage IIB:

  • the tumor is larger than 2 cm but no larger than 5 cm; small groups of breast cancer cells, larger than 0.2 mm but not larger than 2 mm, are found in the lymph nodes; OR
  • the tumor is larger than 2 cm but no larger than 5 cm; cancer has spread to 1-3 axillary lymph nodes or to lymph nodes near the breastbone (found during a sentinel node biopsy); OR
  • the tumor is larger than 5 cm but has not spread to the axillary lymph nodes.

Stage III – This is considered locally advanced cancer (where large tumors have involved the breast skin, underlying chest structures, changes to the breast’s shape, and lymph node enlargement that is visible or that your doctor can feel during an exam) and is split into 3 classifications, IIIA, IIIB and IIIC:

     IIIA – There are three scenarios in Stage IIIA:

  • no tumor is found in the breast, or the tumor may be any size; cancer is found in 4-9 axillary lymph nodes or in the lymph nodes near the breastbone (found during imaging tests or a physical exam); OR
  • the tumor is larger than 5 cm; small groups of breast cancer cells (larger than 0.2 mm but not larger than 2 mm) are found in the lymph nodes; OR
  • the tumor is larger than 5 cm; cancer has spread to 1-3 axillary lymph nodes or to the lymph nodes near the breastbone (found during a sentinel lymph node biopsy)

     IIIB – There are two scenarios in Stage IIIB:

  • the tumor may be any size and has spread to the chest wall and/or skin of the breast and caused swelling or an ulcer, and may have spread to up to 9 axillary lymph nodes; OR
  • may have spread to lymph nodes near the breastbone.

     IIIC – There are three scenarios in Stage IIIC:

  • there may be no sign of cancer in the breast or, if there is a tumor, it may be any size and may have spread to the chest wall and/or the skin of the breast, and the cancer has spread to 10 or more axillary lymph nodes; OR
  • the cancer has spread to lymph nodes above or below the clavicle (collarbone); OR
  • the cancer has spread to axillary lymph nodes or to lymph nodes near the breastbone.

Stage IV – The cancer has spread (metastasized) from the breast to other organs and other parts of the body.

Inflammatory breast cancer is generally considered to be Stage IIIB, at least.   Symptoms of IBC include:

  • reddening of a large portion of the breast skin
  • the breast feels warm and may be swollen
  • cancer cells have spread to the lymph nodes and may be found in the skin.

Information courtesy of breastcancer.org

The most important thing to remember is not to panic, regardless of which stage you are considered to be.  YOU CAN COME BACK FROM THIS AND BE PERFECTLY HEALTHY.  I have a friend who brought herself back from Stage 4 breast cancer, so I know it can be done.  Will it be easy?  No.  You will need to be extremely proactive and involved with every stage of your healing process.  But it can be done.

I send my love to everyone taking this journey right now. If you would like my help with getting through breast cancer in an inspiring and ultra-healthy way, please sign up for my free e-newsletters on the right, or “like” me on Facebook (MarnieClark.com) and I’ll do my utmost to keep you informed and empowered on your healing journey… and beyond.