Early-Stage Breast Cancer Characteristics and Treatment Options

A rise in early-stage breast cancer diagnosis may result from better screening technology and a raised awareness of the importance of annual mammograms. An early-stage breast cancer diagnosis is contained in the breast and has not spread to the axillary lymph nodes.

An early-stage breast cancer diagnosis opens up many treatment options with high success rates. Even so, early-stage breast cancer has stages or categories that help determine appropriate treatment options. The size and location of the tumor and the pathology confirming that no lymph nodes are affected comprise the assignment of Stages 0, 1, or 2.

Stage 0 Breast Cancer Characteristics:

  • Non-invasive
  • Ductal Carcinoma in situ (DCIS)
  • Confined to the milk ducts or lobules
  • 20% of Breast Cancer diagnoses in the U.S.
  • No symptoms, or a recent lump or nipple discharge

Treatment Options for Stage 0:

  • Lumpectomy to target the removal of the tumor and nearby tissue
  • Mastectomy to remove one or both breasts
  • Radiation therapy

Stage 1 Breast Cancer Characteristics:

  • Invasive breast tissue affected.
  • Changes in breast shape or size or lump palpated
  • No lymph node was involved, or some cancerous cells were found in the lymph node.
  • Highly treatable with good outcomes
  • The tumor is 2 cm (3/4 of an inch) or less across
  • Cancer has spread to 1 to 3 axillary lymph node(s), or cancer is found in internal mammary lymph nodes near the breast bone.

Stage 1 Treatment Options:

  • Surgery
  • Radiation

Stage 2 Breast Cancer Characteristics:

  • Invasive
  • Stages 2A or 2B
  • The tumor is more than 2 cm but not more than 5 cm (2 inches) across
  • Cancer has spread to 4 to 9 lymph nodes under the arm, or cancer has enlarged the internal mammary lymph nodes

Stage 2 Treatment Options:

  • Breast-conserving surgery, followed by radiation
  • Mastectomy, or a mastectomy followed by radiation
  • Chemotherapy before or after surgery
  • Hormone therapy, targeted drug therapy, and immunotherapy

To determine your stage and treatment, here is a quick guide to the language you may need when discussing options with your doctor per the American Cancer Society’s synopsis of the American Joint Committee on Cancer (AJCC) TNM staging system effective January 2018.

(T) – The extent (size) of the tumor
(N) – The spread to nearby lymph nodes
(M) – The spread (metastasis) to distant sites
(ER) – Estrogen Receptor protein presence in the tumor
(PR) – Progesterone Receptor protein presence in the tumor
(HER2) – the extent cancer makes too much of a protein called HER2
(G) – Grade, or the extent that cancer cells look like normal cells

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