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Breast Cancer (Facts, Stages) (cont.)

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What are the stages of breast cancer?

Staging of a cancer refers to the determination of how far the tumor has spread at the time of diagnosis. Staging helps determine a woman's treatment plan. Staging is determined by a variety of methods including results from surgical procedures, lymph node biopsy, and imaging tests.

Cancer in situ (DCIS or LCIS) is referred to as stage 0, because the tumor cells have not even begun to spread outside the ducts or lobules into the adjacent breast tissue. Invasive breast cancers are stages along a scale of I to IV, with stage I being the earliest stage and stage IV representing tumors that have metastasized to distant organs like the bones, lungs, or brain.

What is the treatment for breast cancer?

Treatment for breast cancer is individualized and is based upon many factors. Your health care team will help you make the choice that is best for you. In general, treatment decisions typically depend upon many factors, including the following:

  • The type of cancer that is present
  • The stage of the tumor (the extent of spread at the time of diagnosis)
  • Whether or not the tumor expresses ER, PR, and/or HER2
  • A woman's age (whether or not she has had menopause) and overall health
  • A woman's preferences
  • The results of specialized testing performed on the tumor, such as gene expression analysis

Treatment may include a combination of surgery, radiation therapy, hormone therapy, chemotherapy, and targeted therapy. A woman may also elect to participate in a clinical trial or newer treatments.


Surgery is the most common type of treatment for breast cancer. Different surgical treatments are available for early stage breast cancers. Mastectomy is the removal of the entire breast. Breast-conserving surgery, such as lumpectomy or partial mastectomy, can be appropriate for some women. Sentinel lymph node biopsy (removing the first lymph node that drains the affected area) may be performed to assess whether the cancer has begun to spread to nearby lymph nodes. If the lymph nodes contain cancer, an axillary dissection may be done to remove and examine other nearby lymph nodes.

Reconstructive surgery may be done either at the time of mastectomy or at a later time to rebuild the shape of the breast.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 3/19/2014

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