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The B-Word: The Various Stages of Breast Cancer, Exposed

A breast cancer diagnosis can be a lot to stomach. You’ll want all the answers, opinions and information you can get to help you decide your next steps. In this guide, we attempt to give you some.

Hearing a breast cancer diagnosis is never easy. With your brain racing at a million miles an hour, there’s one inevitable question that begs to be answered – what stage am I at? There are myriad means to gauge the stage of breast cancer – biopsies, bone scans, imaging, blood tests, physical evaluations and X-rays, to name a few.

What Are the Stages of Breast Cancer?

There are five main stages of breast cancer, of which some can be further classified into sub-stages.

The higher the stage, the more serious the cancer. When it comes to determining a person’s prognosis, a commonly used measure is the 5-year survival rate, a rate that indicates how many cancer patients at each stage, live for at least 5 years after their diagnosis. Of course, with every patient holding a unique medical profile, this rate isn’t a direct reflection of your prognosis; it’s rather, simply an estimate.

  • Stage 0

This is an early stage cancer that possibly originated in the mammary glands, but hasn’t yet spread to other regions.

5-year survival rate: 100%

  • Stage I

By this stage, the cancer has moved past its original site and attacked healthy tissue. Stage 1 can be further categorized into two stages – stage 1A and stage 1B. The former implies that the cancer has invaded the fatty breast tissue and a tumor – the size of a small peanut – may exist. Stage 1B indicates the existence of some cancer cells in the lymph nodes.

5-year survival rate: 100%

  • Stage II

At this stage, the breast cancer has possibly grown in size and proliferated into other areas. Stage IIA suggests the possibility of a small tumor in the breast and indicates that all or most lymph nodes are still cancer-free. Stage IIB refers to a breast tumor, the size of a lime. The lymph nodes may or may not be affected.

5-year survival rate: 93%

Must read - Everything about Breast Cancer

  • Stage III

Stage III cancer is regarded as advanced. At this stage, the cancer has still not spread to the bones or organs. Stage IIIA implies that up to nine lymph nodes – in a sequence, from the collarbone to the underarm – are now cancerous.

Alternatively, this stage could pertain to a case where the lymph nodes inside the breast are grossly enlarged but there may or may not be a tumor. In stage IIIB, the tumor has rooted itself into the skin over the breast, although the cancer may or may not have spread to the lymph nodes. Stage IIIC implies that 10 or more lymph nodes now carry the cancer, or that the cancer has now spread past the collarbone.

5-year survival rate: 72%

  • Stage IV

A woman who survived breast cancer[/caption]In stage IV breast cancer, the cancer cells have spread far beyond their site of origin, possibly into the bones, brain, lungs and liver. This last stage of cancer is known as ‘metastatic cancer’, because it is now located in an area far away from its origin.

5-year survival rate: 22%

If you have received a breast cancer diagnosis, take heart in knowing that more and more women are successfully fighting breast cancer everyday. Encircle yourself in supportive friends and family, join a support group of like-minded women and find a good doctor you trust. With an army of supporters on your side, the odds are ever in your favor.

Must read - The truth behind some breast cancer myths

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