What does my stage of cancer mean?
If your biopsy shows breast cancer, your breast surgeon will examine you, take a medical history, and review the breast imaging and the pathology reports.
Your surgeon will make a reasonable determination of the size of the cancer, whether or not lymph nodes are involved, whether or not there is reason to suspect cancer that has spread to other parts of your body, and also the biologic characteristics of the cancer (receptor status, HER2/neu status, and how different the cells look from normal breast cells).
Your surgeon will discuss these findings with you and will also determine the clinical stage of your cancer. The lower the stage, the better.
Stage I breast cancer has a very good long-term survival. But even stage IV (breast cancer involving other parts of your body) often has a 5-year survival of better than 15% today.
Stages of Breast Cancer
In 2018, the American Joint Committee on Cancer (AJCC) updated its breast cancer staging guidelines to add additional characteristics to each stage.
Each stage is dependent on a number of criteria which your medical oncologist and care team will explain in detail to you when discussing your stage.
Clinical stage is useful as a benchmark for prognosis. It is used in national treatment guidelines to standardize care and to ensure care that is just right for you.
Stage is different from grade, and more important. Grade refers to how the cancer cells look under the microscope. Are they very similar to normal cells (low grade) or are they very different from normal calls (higher grade)?
Your breast surgeon will discuss both stage and grade with you while working with you to determine your best treatment plan.