Multiple tests can be used to detect the disease. If diagnosed with breast cancer, additional lab tests are done to assist with prognosis. Lab tests such as the Hormone Receptor test and HER2/neu Test are done to provide insight into which cancer treatment options are most effective for the patient.
Before women even experience symptoms, a mammogram which is the process of using a low-dose x-ray type of breast imaging machine can detect cancer early. Mammogram is effective in early breast cancer detection and help decrease breast cancer deaths.
Considered as a non-invasive, this is usually used as a follow-up examination after an abnormal result is detected on a mammogram test. A breast ultrasound is used to screen mass and other breast abnormalities using imaging machines. However, it is not generally effective in detecting early stages of breast cancer.
Magnetic Resonance Imaging or MRI is an imaging technique to create detailed images of tissues and the organs within the body. A breast MRI is often done in women who have already been diagnosed with breast cancer to determine the size and extent of the breast cancer.
A breast biopsy is a way to evaluate a suspicious area in the breast by extracting tissue from the area which is then checked at in the lab to see if they contain cancer cells. Some biopsies are done using a hollow needle, and some use surgical (open) biopsy.
Once breast cancer is detected, doctors carry out tests to check how big the cancer is and how far it has grown – this is called staging. Cancer staging is important because it helps the doctors to know what type of treatment – surgery, radiotherapy, cancer drugs – can be used to get rid of the cancer completely.
It means that the cancer has been found in the original place (ducts or milk glands) and has stayed there. It still doesn’t affect any healthy cells yet and has been diagnosed early.
At this level, breast cancer is now called invasive, meaning it has been broken free and attacking healthy tissues. This can be further categorized as Stage 1A and Stage 1B. Stage IA means the cancer has spread into the fatty breast tissue and Stage IB means the small number of cancer cells have been found on lymph nodes.
At this stage, the cancer has spread, grown, or both, albeit still small.
Cancer at this stage has not spread to bones or organs but is already considered as advance. Stage 3A means the cancer has been found in up to nine of the lymph nodes or it has spread deep in the breast. Stage 3B means the cancer has grown into the skin around the breast or chest wall. Stage 3C means cancer has been found in up to 10 of the lymph nodes or has spread above the collar bone.
This means the cancer has spread far away from the breasts and lymph nodes. This stage is described as “metastatic” meaning it has spread to other areas such as bones, liver, lungs, ovary, and brain.
Doctors also group cancer by letters. “T” pertains for tumor, “N” pertains for nodes, and “M” pertains for metastasis.
According to the National Cancer Institute, the 5-year survival rate shows how many people live after being diagnosed with breast cancer five years after they were diagnosed. The lower the stage, the better chances of living longer.
Stage 0: 100%
Stage 1: 100%
Stage 2: 93%
Stage 3: 72%
Stage 4: 22%