Understanding the Stages of Breast Cancer to Prevent a Misdiagnosis

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Every year, over 200,000 women are diagnosed with breast cancer with the death toll at more than 40,000. October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, providing an opportune time to look at the different stages of breast cancer and how they affect a woman’s body and her rate of survival. Since early detection can lead to a more effective course of treatment, a failure to diagnose or a misdiagnosis of any cancer can be fatal.

Once a woman is diagnosed with breast cancer, it needs to be determined what stage the cancer is in so doctors know if the cancer is contained and what can be done to eliminate it. The main factors in establishing these stages are the size of the cancerous tumor and the number and location of lymph nodes affected by the disease.

Stage 0: Abnormal and non-invasive cells are found in the lining of the breast milk duct. The condition is monitored closely, with surgery and radiation a possibility to eliminate the cells.

Stage I: The cancer is contained in one area and is treatable with surgery and/or radiation. It is broken down as:

  • -1A: A tumor smaller than 2 centimeters is present with no effect on the lymph nodes.
  • -1B: There is a small presence of cancerous cells in the lymph nodes with either no tumor in the breast or one smaller than 2 centimeters.

Stage II: The cancer is becoming more invasive but can still respond well to treatment if diagnosed before it progresses any further. It is broken down as:

  • -2A: No tumor is present but cancerous cells can be found in less than four lymph nodes further away from the site, such as near the underarm or breastbone (axillary). Also categorized by a tumor less than 2 centimeters with less than four axillary lymph nodes affected or a tumor that measures 2-5 centimeters with no lymph nodes affected.
  • -2B: A tumor measuring 2-5 centimeters is present along with less than four axillary lymph nodes affected. Also categorized by a tumor greater than 5 centimeters with no affected lymph nodes.

Stage III: The invasive cancer has spread beyond the immediate area but has not reached any vital organs. It is still treatable with surgery (including a mastectomy), chemotherapy, hormone therapy or radiation. It is broken down as:

  • -3A: No tumor or any size tumor is present with four to nine nearby lymph nodes containing cancerous cells. Also if the tumor is more than 5 centimeters and a small amount of cancer cells are found in the lymph nodes, or the tumor is more than 5 centimeters and cancer can be found in up to three axillary lymph nodes.
  • -3B: Any size tumor with the cancer having spread to the chest wall or breast skin (possibly causing an ulcer) and up to nine lymph nodes.
  • -3C: No tumor, or any size tumor is present with the cancer spreading to either more than10 lymph nodes, lymph nodes located by the collar bone, or lymph nodes by the underarm or breast bone.

Stage IIII: The cancer has spread past the lymph nodes and to other organs including the lungs, liver, brain, and bones. Many times this stage develops due to a previous battle with breast cancer. While the cancer cannot be cured by this stage, certain courses of treatment can help extend a woman’s life.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo recently signed legislation in an effort to provide access to mammograms to as many women as possible. Hospitals and clinics throughout the city will have weekend appointments available and extended weekday hours for women who cannot have the test performed during the workday. Monetary concerns are also being addressed for both routine screenings and for women who need additional testing. More information on the “Get Screened, No Excuses” initiative and locations with extended hours can be found by calling the New York State Cancer Hotline at 1-866-442-2262 or visiting the Governor’s website.

Women should take the lead in breast cancer detection with regular check-ups and testing along with self-examination on a monthly basis. It is then up to the medical professionals to provide a correct diagnosis and treatment plan. If you or someone you love has been a victim of a failure to diagnose breast cancer or a breast cancer misdiagnosis, it can be a long and difficult road. Please contact the experienced and compassionate attorneys at Finz & Finz, P.C., to stand up and fight for the compensation you deserve.