As there are different stages of cancer, there are different treatments that are usually recommended for each stage. What factors decide what stage of cancer you are in?
The stage of breast cancer is determined by your general health, how large the tumor is in relation to your breast, the results of further testing and biopsies, and if you have gone through menopause. Some tumors are fed by hormones and this needs to be determined to decide which stage you are in, and what treatment you will need.
Stage 0 is a precancerous stage. This means that a woman may have cells that appear as precancerous. Lobular carcinoma in situ or LCIS does not need treatment. You will be told of the problem and your doctor will ask you to have regular checkups for any signs of breast cancer. The healthcare provider may also suggest taking Tamoxifen to reduce the chances of developing breast cancer. This new drug does have some side effects but most agree the side effects are small compared to the danger of breast cancer. Others may be asked to take part in studies that are looking into preventive treatments for breast cancer. If you have LCIS in one breast, it increases the possibility of cancer in both breasts. Occasionally, a doctor may recommend the removal of both breasts. This is called bilateral prophylactic mastectomy. This radical approach has lost its appeal since new research has given scientists hope for a cure and extended life.
Stages II, III, and IIIA are considered operable breast cancer. Your doctor will help you decide if you are a good candidate for breast-saving surgery or a mastectomy. Most women who have Stage I or Stage II breast cancer will have a partial mastectomy and follow that up with radiation therapy. Most women will have underarm lymph nodes removed at the time of the surgery. If no cancer cells are found in these lymph nodes, your doctor may decide if radiation treatment is needed. If cancer cells are found in the lymph nodes, or the tumor is especially big, then further treatments will be recommended. A woman may choose to have radiation or chemotherapy treatment before surgery to shrink the tumor to a size where the removal of the entire breast is not necessary.
Stages IIIB and Inoperable will usually be treated with chemotherapy. These stages also include inflammatory breast cancer. If radiation or chemotherapy reduces the tumor, then surgery can be considered.
Stage IV cancer will have many different forms of therapy. Hormone, biological, chemotherapy, or a combination of these may be considered as treatments. Supportive care is important for anyone with these stages of breast cancer. Treatment may come from one place, while pain management is taken care of at another location. Supportive care focuses on making the woman’s life better both emotionally and physically.
Women who have advanced cancer may choose to only have supportive care instead of chemotherapy, radiation, or hormone therapy.