What is Stage I Breast Cancer?

N. Madison

Stage I breast cancer is the earliest stage of invasive breast cancer. Breast cancer that is discovered at this stage is often treatable, and women with this stage of breast cancer have a high likelihood of surviving for at least eight years. It also should be noted that there is a Stage 0 breast cancer as well. This designation is usually reserved for non-invasive cancer of the breast, however.

A mastectomy may be performed if a patient has stage I breast cancer.
A mastectomy may be performed if a patient has stage I breast cancer.

When a woman is diagnosed with Stage I breast cancer, this means she has the earliest stage of invasive cancer of the breast. Essentially, invasive cancer means the cancer cells involved are not isolated within the part of the breast they originally infected. Instead, they have been found in nearby tissues as well. With Stage I breast cancer, however, the tumor is still likely to be small, often 0.79 inches (2 centimeters) or less in size, and a woman’s lymph nodes are usually not affected.

Mammograms are performed to detect the presence of breast cancer.
Mammograms are performed to detect the presence of breast cancer.

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While no diagnosis of cancer is to be taken likely, a diagnosis of Stage I breast cancer often means there is hope for treatment and recovery. Cancers that are found in this stage typically respond well to treatment, as they are confined to the breast. Surgery is often used as treatment for breast cancer found in this stage. With a small tumor, for example, a woman may have a lumpectomy performed to remove the tumor as well as a minimal amount of other affected tissues. In some cases, however, a mastectomy is performed, which involves removal of the breast and sometimes the lymph nodes as well.

In addition to surgery, there are other effective treatments for Stage I breast cancer, and doctors may use a combination of treatments instead of just one. Among the other treatments doctors may recommend for Stage I cancer are radiation therapy, which may be used to destroy any leftover cancer cells, and chemotherapy, which may make a recurrence of cancer less likely. Hormone therapy may also be used to stop hormone-dependent tumors from getting the estrogen they need to thrive. Biological therapy is used less often in Stage I breast cancer but may interfere with a protein that helps breast cancer to spread.

In some cases, a woman with Stage I breast cancer may also consider participating in clinical trials. Through clinical trails, she may gain access to new treatment methods and medications. It’s important to keep in mind, however, that treatments used in clinical trials are not guaranteed to be safe or effective.

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