Doctors use breast cancer staging to develop the treatment plans that can lead to the best outcomes
By Valerie Gorman, MD, Breast Surgeon at Baylor Scott & White Texas Surgical Specialists
A lot of women who are diagnosed with breast cancer have questions about their breast cancer stage. To answer their questions, the treatment team looks at things like how big the tumor is, whether it has spread within the breast or into the body, and whether it has certain hormone receptors. With this information, the team evaluates the breast cancer stage.
It can take a little while to determine the stage of the breast cancer, and the process can include imaging, biopsy, and surgery. During surgery, along with the tumor, the surgeon may remove the lymph node where the cancer is most likely to have spread, to look for signs of cancer there. Doctors may also recommend blood work or imaging studies such as a chest x-ray, CT scan, bone scan, or PET scan to help evaluate whether the cancer has spread.
“These factors are important because accurately determining the breast cancer stage can guide treatment planning,
impact the prognosis, and help evaluate whether clinical trials might be a good option.”
There are five stages for breast cancer, labeled 0 through IV.
Stage 0 is the least-advanced breast cancer stage. In stage 0, the cancer hasn’t spread past the part of the breast where it started, which is often the lining of the milk ducts.
Treatment: Stage 0 breast cancer is highly treatable.
In Stage I, the cancer is only found in the area of the breast where it first began. This stage is broken down into two stages, IA and IB. This stage mainly includes tumors smaller than two centimeters.
Treatment: A Stage I prognosis usually means the cancer was caught early, and treatment should be effective.
Stage II breast cancers are slightly larger but have normally not spread to the lymph nodes in the armpit.
Treatment: Stage II breast cancers are often treated effectively with surgery, and sometimes with radiation and chemotherapy.
Stage III breast cancers have spread beyond the breast to lymph nodes but haven’t spread further out into the body.
Treatment: Surgery, chemotherapy, radiation, hormone therapy, targeted therapy, immunotherapy, and clinical trials are treatment options.
In stage IV, the breast cancer has spread to other parts of the body outside of the breast and lymph nodes.
It might be found in the lungs, liver, bones, brain, or skin.
Treatment: Stage IV breast cancer usually can’t be cured.
But it can be managed and treated as a chronic disease, which can extend a woman’s life by many years.
Physician is an employee of HealthTexas Provider Network, a member of Baylor Scott & White Health. ©2021 Baylor Scott & White Health.