Friday, October 16, 2009

Understanding Early Stage Breast Cancer

Once a tumor is detected in the breast, it is advisable to seek medical assistance as early as possible. The soonest medical intervention occurs, the greater the chances of having the cancer removed from the area and for the patient to start recovering or obtain further medical assistance. The moment the tumor is detected is known as the early stage of breast cancer. Understanding the early stage of breast cancer can help a patient to feel more at ease about receiving treatment.

Early stage breast cancer has four stages: Stage I, II (A or B), III (A, B, or C) or IV. The size of the tumor and whether or not the cancer has spread is what determines the category of the cancer. Not all stages of the tumor are considered "early-stage." The only ones which are "early-stage" are Stages I, IIA, IIB and IIIA.

There are no other unique characteristics associated with the tumor which will designate which stage it is. Only the size and its capacity for spreading are what result in the type of stage it is classified as.

Treatment for early-stage breast cancer usually involves surgery. The surgical procedures used for early-stage breast cancer are as follows:

The first type of surgery is called "breast-sparing surgery." In other words, a surgical procedure in which all or most of the breast is spared from removal. The surgeon will either remove the tumor and surrounding tissue involved (perform a "lumpectomy") or remove a part of the breast that includes the tumor (perform a "partial mastectomy"). Usually, with this type of surgery, some lymph nodes from under the arm will also be removed. This type of surgery is also known as "breast-conserving surgery." The affected breast may look exactly the same or mostly the same following this type of surgery. After breast-sparing surgery, the patient normally undergoes radiation therapy.

The second type of surgery is called a "mastectomy." There are two types of mastectomies: "Simple" or "total" mastectomy, and "modified radical mastectomy." The simple or total mastectomy involves removing the entire breast and possibly some lymph nodes located under the arm. With modified radical mastectomy, the entire breast is removed as well as some lymph nodes under the arm, the lining over the chest muscles and possibly part of the chest wall muscles.

The reason for removal of lymph nodes is to help the treating doctors detect if the cancer is spreading. If they detect cancer in the removed lymph nodes, they may need to remove more in order to prevent the cancer from spreading to other parts of the body (to metastasize). From here, the patient may or may not be advised to receive adjuvant therapy, depending on the results.

Reference: Early Stage Breast Cancer Frequently Asked Questions

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