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Breast Cancer Awareness Month: 4 stages of breast cancer explained


Breast cancer has emerged as the commonest cancer in women. Over last decade it has overtaken cervical cancer in terms of incidence.

Breast cancer occurs when some breast cells begin to grow abnormally and divide more rapidly than healthy cells do, forming lump. Cells may spread through the breast to lymph nodes or other parts of the body

Ageing, longer menstrual history, family history of breast cancer, obesity especially after menopause, high fat diet, excess alcohol consumption, delayed first pregnancy and less breast feeding, prolonged hormone replacement therapy are some of the common causes of breast cancer.

ALSO READ: Breast Cancer Awareness Month: Common breast cancer myths busted

It is important to nip breast cancer in its bud as early detection can significantly improve the chances of a patient’s recovery. Women are suggested to self-examine their breasts regularly from the age 20 to assess any abnormality. One can also go for advanced screening methods such as mammography with sono-mammography from age 40 onwards to detect breast cancer in time.

Common symptoms of breast cancer

Dr Garvit Chitkara, Senior Consultant, Breast Surgical Oncology and Oncoplastic Surgery, Nanavati Max Institute of Cancer Care explains some common symptoms of breast cancer.

“The most common symptom of breast cancer is a painless lump in the breast or axilla, however it is not the only symptom. Breast cancer can also present as nipple deviation, retraction, ulceration or discharge from the nipple with or without a lump. it may also present a change in the shape or feel of the breast, skin thickening, ulceration and at times orange peel like appearance of the skin of the breast,” he says.

Stages of breast cancer

Breast cancer is curable if detected early. Stage of the disease plays a crucial role in the outcome.

Broadly breast cancer can be divided into:

Early stage (stage 1&2)

Locoregionally advanced stage (stage 3)

Metastatic stage (stage 4).

Stage 1 & 2

“In stage 1 and 2, size of lump is less than 5 cm with single, mobile lymph node in armpit, says Dr Nikhil Kalyani, Consultant, Radiation Oncologist at Jaslok Hospital and Research Centre.

Stage 3

“Stage 3 comprises lesion of more than 5 cm or fixed lymph node in armpit or node in neck,” adds Dr Kalyani.

Patients with Stage 1 to 3 are offered curative treatment comprising of combination of surgery, chemotherapy, radiotherapy, hormonal therapy and targeted therapy depending on stage and receptor status, says the oncologist.

Stage 4

Stage 4 comprises of disease which has spread to other organs like bone, lung, brain etc.

“Stage 4 patients are treated with palliative intent to prolong survival and provide best quality of life to patients,” he says.

Dr Kalyani says that early detection and treatment of breast cancer can provide 5-year survival rate in excess of 80 to 90 percent. “All efforts should be made to detect cancer in stage 1 and 2,” says the expert.

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