Whenever a person receives a diagnosis of cancer of any kind, you inevitably think backward to prior recognition of abnormal symptoms that may have been missed and then forward with hopefulness to cancer treatments. Spotting symptoms in their early stages usually leads to positive results.
In the U.S., over 90 percent of breast cancer diagnoses happen during the early breast cancer stages. Early detection is good news for the patient as it often translates to effective treatment.
Nonetheless, early diagnosis is only a fraction of the whole medical picture. Other disease characteristics, like hormone receptors and lymph nodes, can aid in prognosing results and help doctors and patients choose the right treatment.
Though breast cancer rates are increasing in North America and the United Kingdom, the fatality rate is falling. This declining death rate is accredited to more women getting mammograms, better evaluation processes, and more potent secondary treatments.
Thus if the majority of diagnosed breast cancer cases are discovered during the preliminary stages, what effect does that have on patients and what are the best treatment courses?
An Overview of the Earlier Symptoms of this Disease
Early breast cancer stages are referred to as TNM stages 1, 2 and 3a. This rating system gauges the advance of carcinoma. It also indicates that any tumors are operable.
The majority of early breast cancer cases are cured through either surgery, radiation therapy, systemic therapy or a combination of the three, resulting in a much greater survival rate.
Typical Treatment Response
Treatment response typically depends on lymph node involvement, the grade and size of tumors, estrogen and progesterone receptors, the status of biologic markers such as HER2/neu and the patient’s age.
Lymph Node Indicators
Lymph nodes are an effective way to predict the effects of breast cancer. Essentially, the more positive lymph nodes that are present, the lower the patient’s survival rate and the higher the chances of relapse.
Typically, patients with early stage breast cancer are grouped into either those having negative nodes, 1 to 3 positive ones, 4 to 9, or 10 and higher.
If a patient exhibits negative lymph nodes and a tumor that is smaller than 1cm, the prognosis is often very good. Most doctors use tumor size as an effective and critical indicator during the early stages of this disease.
As the grade of the tumor increases, so does the potential relapse rate. However, due to the unreliability of tumor data, most pathologists do not rely on this information for their prognosis.
The status of hormone receptors in the tumor is another indicator used by doctors when prognosing early stage breast cancer. Typically, patients who experience a receptor-positive cancer have a stronger survival rate than those who do not.
HER2/neu as an Indicator
HER2/neu is a tumor marker that is expressed in approximately a quarter of all breast cancer cases. If its numbers are high, this is usually associated with a more aggressive form of breast cancer.
Generally, patients who are older (50 and up) have a better prognosis than patients under the age of 35.