If the biopsy shows that you have breast cancer, your doctor needs to learn the extent (stage) of the disease to help you choose the best treatment. The stage is based on the size of the cancer, whether the cancer has invaded nearby tissues, and whether the cancer has spread to other parts of the body.
Staging breast cancer may involve blood tests and other tests:
These tests can show whether the cancer has spread and, if so, to what parts of your body. When breast cancer spreads, cancer cells are often found in lymph nodes under the arm (axillary lymph nodes). Also, breast cancer can spread to almost any other part of the body, such as the bones, liver, lungs, and brain.
When breast cancer spreads from its original place to another part of the body, the new tumor has the same kind of abnormal cells and the same name as the primary (original) tumor. For example, if breast cancer spreads to the bones, the cancer cells in the bones are actually breast cancer cells. The disease is metastatic breast cancer, not bone cancer. For that reason, it is treated as breast cancer, not bone cancer. Doctors call the new tumor “distant” or metastatic disease.
Stage 0 is sometimes used to describe abnormal cells that are not invasive cancer. For example, Stage 0 is used for ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS). DCIS is diagnosed when abnormal cells are in the lining of a breast duct, but the abnormal cells have not invaded nearby breast tissue or spread outside the duct. Although many doctors don’t consider DCIS to be cancer, DCIS sometimes becomes invasive breast cancer if not treated.
Stage I is an early stage of invasive breast cancer. Cancer cells have invaded breast tissue beyond where the cancer started, but the cells have not spread beyond the breast. The tumor is no more than 2 centimeters (three-quarters of an inch) across.
Stage II is one of the following:
The cancer has not spread to the lymph nodes under the arm.
Stage III is locally advanced cancer. It is divided into Stage IIIA, IIIB, and IIIC.
Stage IV is distant metastatic breast cancer. The cancer has spread to other parts of the body, such as the bones or liver.
Recurrent cancer is cancer that has come back after a period of time when it could not be detected. Even when cancer seems to be completely destroyed, the disease sometimes returns because undetected cancer cells remain somewhere in your body after treatment. Breast cancer can return as a local recurrence (in the same breast), regional (in the lymph nodes nearby the breast), or in a distant area of the body. Treatment for recurrent breast cancer is typically different from the initial breast cancer treatment, as it is more aggressive and difficult to treat.
If you or a loved one has received a new breast cancer diagnosis, our oncologists are here to guide you. Our breast cancer doctors work with each patient to understand their specific type of breast cancer and recommend a personalized treatment plan based on you. We offer a patient-centered approach to cancer care and have access to the latest breast cancer treatments at our cancer centers throughout Willamette Valley, including Albany, Corvallis, Eugene, Florence, Lincoln City, and Newport, Oregon.