Stages and types of breast cancer

Breast Cancer Stages

Health professionals, unsurprisingly, have come up with some confusing classification of the different types and stages of breast cancer and for those who’ve just been diagnosed all the cumbersome medical terminology can be at best bewildering and at worst completely unintelligible. You might want to scream, run or simply bury your head in the sand when bombarded with gobbledegook such as pre-invasive breast cancer, ductal carcinoma in situ, metastases and Stage IIIB invasive cancer.

What does it all mean? And does any of it matter? You’ve just received the devastating news that you have breast cancer so you can’t suddenly be expected to become an expert on the subject…and anyway, surely that’s what the medics are there for?

The fact is that the more you understand about your own breast cancer, the more directly involved you can become in your own treatment. That’s not for everyone – some people simply prefer their doctor to tell them the way forward with no discussion about it. But many women find that knowledge gives them a sense of control over their own bodies, treatment and future at a time when chaos seems to reign supreme.

The Internet offers a vast store of knowledge about the different types of breast cancer along with news of pioneering treatments, new drugs and clinical trials. If you find yourself on information overload, try joining a breast cancer forum because you’ll be amazed at just how knowledgeable some of your sisters in this battle have become.

For newcomers to this most unwelcome of subjects, here’s an at-a-glance guide to some of the terminology you’re most likely to come across:-

Pre-invasive breast cancer
This is when cancer cells are found inside the milk ducts or milk sacs (known as the lobules) of the breast but they haven’t broken through to the surrounding tissue. This type of breast cancer is also referred to as early stage or Stage 0. When only the milk ducts are affected it’s called Ductal Carcinoma in Situ (DCIS) and when the milk sacs are affected it’s known as Lobular Carcinoma in Situ (LCIS). Few women die of this form of cancer if it’s diagnosed and treated early enough.

Invasive breast cancer
Stage I - a cancerous tumour of up to two centimetres but with no involvement of the underarm lymph nodes
Stage II - describes a tumour of up to five centimetres and limited lymph node involvement
Stage IIIA – a tumour larger than five centimetres and/or more serious lymph node involvement
Stage IIIB – when cancer cells have spread to the skin of the breast, chest wall or the lymph nodes inside the chest
Stage IV – describes the spread of the original cancer to other parts of the body such as the liver, lungs, bones and brain. This is also known as advanced stage cancer or metastatic cancer

Inflammatory breast cancer
A rare and particularly aggressive form of the disease (in the Stage IIIB category) which often goes undiagnosed. Read more here.


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