Breast Cancer Stages and Other Facts
Get Information About the Disease in Austin, TX
Breast cancer incidence rates in the United States began dropping at turn of the millennium, but the disease is still a significant threat to women of all ages. An estimated 3.1 million women started 2018 with some history of breast cancer in their past, whether they had completed treatments to combat it or were still undergoing a treatment plan. More than 12 percent of all U.S. women are expected to develop invasive breast cancer at some point in their life, which means a woman has a roughly one in eight chance of personally dealing with the disease. The Christine Fisher MD team, which includes breast cancer survivors, is committed to providing reconstructive care, support, and education on everything from reconstruction options to breast cancer stages in Austin, TX.
The information presented here is meant to serve as a jumping-off point for anyone who wants to learn about breast cancer. Dr. Christine Fisher can further explain details about breast cancer stages and more, but understand that her role in relation to breast cancer is in reconstruction after mastectomy or with a lumpectomy, working in close harmony with a patient's surgical oncologist and greater medical team. The strategies and techniques she recommends will always be from a position that puts a patient's long-term health and safety first. Dr. Fisher also offers lymphedema surgery to help with a painful potential symptom experienced by breast cancer patients dealing with swelling.
Breast Cancer Stages
There are many factors that go into accurately determining which stage of breast cancer a patient is experiencing, but a simplified explanation is that breast cancer stages are determined by how far the cancer has spread, based on where cancer cells are found, as well as the grade of the tumor, the presence of hormone receptors on the cancer cells, levels of HER2 protein made by the cells, and an Oncotype DX test to examine the cancer's genomic traits.
There are five breast cancer stages, outlined here for general educational purposes. No patient should ever seek to diagnose herself or make determinations of medical care without being properly diagnosed by a doctor.
This first of the breast cancer stages indicates localized, non-invasive cancer cells that stay where they develop. An example of Stage 0 breast cancer is ductal carcinoma in situ.
Next in the list of breast cancer stages is I, which indicates that the cancer cells are beginning to move into surrounding tissue. At this point, the cancer can appear as a small tumor situated entirely in the breast and/or there may be small collections of cancer cells in the lymph nodes. These two scenarios are considered substages of Stage I.
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Also broken into two smaller breast cancer stages, Stage IIA indicates cancer in a certain number of lymph nodes or lymph nodes near the breastbone despite there being no tumor, a small tumor and cancer cells found in the axillary lymph nodes, or a larger tumor that has not spread. Stage IIB is used to describe a larger tumor and collections of cancer cells in the lymph nodes, a larger tumor and cancer cells found in a few axillary lymph nodes or lymph nodes near the breastbone, or an ever bigger tumor that is still contained within the breast. Note that there are numerous variations and unique scenarios that may cause a cancer to be classified as Stage II.
Perhaps the most nuanced and complicated of the various breast cancer stages, Stage III is broken into three parts: Stage IIIA is used to describe a lack of a tumor despite cancer cells found in numerous axillary lymph nodes or lymph nodes near the breastbone, a larger tumor and small groups of cancer cells in the lymph nodes, or a larger tumor and cancer found in a few axillary lymph nodes or lymph nodes near the breastbone. Stage IIIB indicates any size tumor that has formed an ulcer or caused swelling after spreading to the chest wall or skin and also spread to numerous axillary lymph nodes or lymph nodes near the breastbone. Stage IIIC is reserved for cancer that has moved into at least 10 axillary lymph nodes or lymph nodes near the collarbone or breastbone, whether there is a tumor of any size or not in the breast. As with other breast cancer stages, certain mitigating factors may indicate a lower stage, even if certain criteria here are met.
The last of the breast cancer stages is considered to be advanced, typically meaning that cancer cells have spread far beyond the breasts to be found in the bones, brain, or other organs throughout the body.
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Breast Cancer Treatments
Since cancer can take many forms, and there are multiple breast cancer stages, each with unique characteristics, there are numerous treatments available. The goal of each is to get rid of cancer cells from the body as effectively and safely as possible. The treatment is tailored to the patients.
Surgery options include the entire physical removal of one or both breasts and the cancer cells inside (mastectomy), removal of just the tumor and some tissue (lumpectomy), and lymph node removal or dissection. Patients who undergo surgery for breast cancer may opt for breast reconstruction to rebuild their breast mound.
Radiation therapy involves using high-energy beams to kill cancer cells. It is typically administered to the outside of the breast, though there are also variations that involve internal radiation delivery, as well as radiation applied while a lumpectomy is in progress.
Chemotherapy is the term for using medicine to fight cancer. Since medications travel throughout the body, this treatment is often used when cancer cells have spread beyond the breast. The goal may be to destroy all cancer cells, or to shrink a tumor prior to its surgical removal.
Hormone therapy works because certain cancers grow with exposure to estrogen, so reducing estrogen levels can lower the risk of these cancers recurring after surgical removal of cancer cells.
Targeted therapy treatments focus on a particular aspect of cancer cells, making them a more selective approach than chemotherapy. They may block the reception of chemical signals or inhibit cancer cell division.
A woman seeking breast reconstruction can opt for an immediate procedure, performed at the same time as a lumpectomy or mastectomy, or a delayed surgery, which can happen even years later. The specific options and techniques available depend on a host of factors, including past treatments, future planned treatments, breast size, the amount of tissue remaining after surgery, patient health, and more. Some women may need only a small amount of repair work after a mastectomy while others may have an implant inserted to restore lost volume. A flap may be taken from elsewhere on the body to create a breast mound after mastectomy.
Dr. Christine Fisher works with each patient to determine the ideal reconstructive procedure, explaining the many choices and offering guidance from the initial consultation on. She also makes a wealth of information about reconstruction techniques available on this site:
- DIEP flap
- SIEA flap
- GAP flap
- PAP flap
- LD flap
- Oncoplastic Breast Reconstruction
- nipple-sparing breast reconstruction
- implant breast reconstruction