Breast cancer is a disease that affects everyone uniquely, making treatment decisions is an incredibly personal aspect of a patient’s recovery journey.
While early detection and routine screenings are some of the best defenses when it comes to prevention and intervention, steady developments in breast cancer treatment have led to more and more positive outcomes, even for patients with advanced-stage cancer.
Different Stages of Breast Cancer
There are five standard stages for breast cancer. Stages range in severity from Stage 0 to Stage IV. Stage 0 is an indicator of non-invasive and well-contained cancer cells, and Stage IV indicates the presence of aggressive or invasive cancer cells that have spread to parts of the body outside of the breast. Typically, a breast cancer diagnosis of Stage III or higher is considered an advanced-stage diagnosis.
Stages are determined by the cancer’s specific characteristics, like tumor size, its location in the breast tissue, and whether or not the cancer cells contain growth hormone receptors. This staging system is also used to help predict the cancer’s projected rate of development at the time of diagnosis.
Identifying the stage of a patient’s breast cancer allows their doctor and other members of the cancer care team to determine:
- A patient’s prognosis, or the likely outcome of the disease
- The optimal course of treatment
- Whether or not clinical trials or other innovative interventions should be considered
While a diagnosis of advanced-stage breast cancer may feel discouraging, it is imperative for patients to remember that there are still highly-effective treatment options to consider. Even in the most severe cases, advanced-stage cancer treatments have the potential to improve a patient’s prognosis by reducing symptoms, avoiding further progression, and increasing the likelihood of survivorship.
No matter the stage, when a breast cancer diagnosis is received, our patients work closely with each member of their expert care teams to determine their best course of treatment, and to ensure they receive the highest level of individualized care available.
Breast cancer treatment plans are customized so that patients receive care options that are as advanced and as minimally-invasive as possible. At Main Line Health, our specialized, multi-disciplinary breast cancer teams strive to eradicate cancer while preserving the breast and mitigating treatment side effects.
- Breast Surgery – Breast surgery often involves removing specific tumors or “lumps” in the breast tissue. For advanced-stage patients, mastectomy – the complete removal of one or both breasts – may also be considered. Our surgeons at Main Line Health are champions of minimally-invasive and breast-conserving surgical techniques that allow for the preservation of healthy breast tissue and reduce recovery time.
- Medicinal Therapy – Customized treatment plans for advanced-stage breast cancer incorporate a variety of anti-tumor and immune support medications that work to supplement treatment and minimize side effects. These medications may be used in combination or in sequence in order to destroy cancer cells in the body while preserving and protecting healthy tissue.
- Chemotherapy – For patients with advanced-stage breast cancer, chemotherapy and other medicinal interventions are almost always used to supplement treatment. These treatments come in different forms, but they all target and eradicate specific types of cancer cells while sparing healthy tissue.
- Immunotherapy – Immunotherapy utilizes the body’s immune system by introducing biological agents that train it to target cancer cells while boosting its resistance to the disease overall. Immunotherapy is one of the newest frontiers in breast cancer treatment, and one that is constantly advancing via extensive research and ongoing clinical trials.
- Clinical Trials – Our breast cancer researchers are continuously developing clinical trials that utilize FDA-approved medications to treat advanced-stage patients. Clinicals trials are designed to treat different types of advanced-stage breast cancer, often by alleviating or mitigating specific symptoms. Eligibility is determined on a case-by-case basis in order to ensure that treatments will safely and effectively improve a patient’s unique prognosis.
- Radiation Therapies – More than half of all advanced-stage breast cancer patients undergo radiation therapy during their treatment. Radiation therapies use high-energy beams to destroy cancer cells in specific sites in the body. Advancements in radiation therapy have let to powerful precision techniques that offer patients w fewer side effects and significantly shorter treatment times.
We understand that receiving a breast cancer diagnosis often results in fear or concerns about what the future holds. Our entire team of breast oncologists, reconstructive surgeons, geneticists, radiologists, integrative therapists, and nurse navigators is here to provide each patient with expert guidance, ongoing support, and compassionate care throughout their entire treatment and recovery journey. We center all treatment decisions around the patient, and prioritize transparency in order to allay fear and optimize their experience from screening to survivorship.