When a woman is diagnosed with breast cancer, she is normally given a stage rating to describe her particular cancer. This number may at first be confusing, but it is actually very important in understanding one's prognosis and in determining the best treatment options. After years of research, specific breast cancer survival rates that correspond to each stage have been determined. This can help give a woman hope or it can help her prepare realistically.
The earliest stage of breast cancer is stage 0. In stage 0, the cancer has not spread beyond the breast tissue to any surrounding normal tissue. Stage 0 breast cancer is further broken down into lobular carcinoma in situ (LCIS) and ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS). LCIS is not actually considered cancerous, but rather it indicates a high risk of cancer. It is often treated with more frequent breast exams, rather than any actual cancer treatement. DCIS is when the cancer cells are restricted to the milk ducts of the breast. The treatment for DCIS is usually lumpectomy (removal of just the tumor and a small amount of surrounding breast tissue), followed by radiation. The breast cancer survival rate (measured as survival 5-years following diagnosis) for stage 0 is 100%.
The next stage of breast cancer is stage I. Stage I cancer is when the cancer is starting to invade neighboring normal tissue, but has not yet spread to the lymph nodes. The original cancerous tumor is less than 2cm in diameter. The typical treatment for stage I breast cancer can be a lumpectomy and removal of nearby lymph nodes, followed by radiation, or a modified radical mastectomy (where all of the breast tissue is removed) and removal of nearby lymph nodes. The breast cancer survival rate for stage I cancer is 98%.
Stage II breast cancer is actually broken down further into stages IIA and IIB. Stage IIA cancer is a tumor between 2cm and 5cm that has invaded nearby tissue, but has not spread to the lymph nodes. Stage IIB cancer is a tumor between 2cm and 5cm that has spread to the lymph nodes under the arm of the same side as the affected breast; or a tumor over 5cm that has not spread to the lymph nodes. Treatment for both stages IIA and IIB is the same as for stage I breast cancer. However, the breast cancer survival rates are not as positive. For stage IIA, the survival rate is 88%; for stage IIB, the breast cancer survival rate is 76%.
Stage III breast cancer is also broken down further into stages IIIA and IIIB. Stage IIIA breast cancer is when the cancer has spread to both the lymph nodes under the arm as well as the normal tissue in that area. Typical treatment includes a modified radical mastectomy, followed by radiation or chemotherapy. If the tumor is large, chemotherapy may be given before surgery in an attempt to shrink the tumor. Stage IIIB breast cancer is when the cancer attaches to the chest wall and chest lymph nodes. Treatment often begins with chemotherapy to shrink the tumor, followed by a lumpectomy or modified radical mastectomy, further followed by more chemotherapy, radiation or a combination of chemotherapy and hormone treatment. Inflammatory breast cancer, a rare but aggressive type of breast cancer that is characterized by redness and swelling of the breast, is also considered stage IIIB. The breast cancer survival rate for stage IIIA is 56%, while the breast cancer survival rate for stage IIIB is 49%.
Stage IV breast cancer is the most advanced and serious form of breast cancer. In stage IV breast cancer, the cancer has spread from the breast to other parts of the body such as the lungs, liver, brain and/or bones. The aim of treatment is to extend survival time and relieve symptoms. That treatment usually involves system treatment such as chemotherapy, hormonal therapy or both. In some cases a radical mastectomy may be called for. The breast cancer survival rate for stage IV is only 16%.
While a breast cancer diagnosis can be devastating, it's still important to be as informed as possible. Having accurate information can help you understand what to expect and can also give you realistic expectations for your treatment, recovery and survival.