Any diagnosis of breast cancer can cause fear and panic, but if you've been diagnosed with stage 1, take heart! Early stage breast cancer can be successfully treated and beaten into remission. Survival rates after treatment for stage 1 breast cancer are very high.
Staging of your cancer is only one aspect of your diagnosis, and you will have many other tests before you have a comprehensive diagnosis and treatment plan. Know your treatment options and make good choices before you begin any therapies for breast cancer.
Stage 1 Breast Cancer
Stage 1 breast cancer is a very small tumor or clump of cancer cells in the breast or in a lymph node near the breast. Stage 1 is scored T1 N0 M0 in the TNM system. These numbers refer to scores for the Tumor, Node Status, and Metastasis. If your tumor scored T1, it is 2 cm or smaller in size and it may have micrometastasis of 0.1 cm or less. If no tumor is found in the breast, but cancer cells are detected in nearby lymph nodes, it is scored as N1.
- Stage 1A: You have a tumor of 2 cm or smaller and no cancer cells or tumors are found outside your breast.
- Stage 1B: There are at least two scenarios for this. 1) You have a tumor of 2 cm or smaller as well as tiny clumps of cancer cells in your lymph nodes. 2) You don't have a tumor in your breast, but a clump of cancer larger than 0.2 of a millimeter but not larger than 2 mm is in your lymph nodes.
- Stage 1B Variation: Sometimes cancer won't play by the rules, so it is possible to have a 2 cm breast tumor as well as lymph node involvement.
Survival Rates for Stage 1
According to the National Cancer Data Base, the 5-year survival rate for stage 1 breast cancer is 88% for patients who completed treatment. This percentage is based on patients who were diagnosed between 2001 and 2002. When we talk about a 5-year survival rate, this does not mean that you will live only five years after diagnosis. Cancer patients will see their oncologists for five years to make sure that recovery is going smoothly and that treatment for recurrence won't be needed. If you've beaten the cancer for that many years, your chances of having to fight it again decrease greatly. You may have to deal with other diseases and conditions, but it is unlikely that you will die of stage 1 breast cancer. In short, your prognosis is very good.
Treatments for Stage 1 Breast Cancer
Many factors will affect your options for treatment: tumor grade, hormone status, HER2/neu status, lymph nodes affected, surgical margins, and tumor marker score. Staging is just one aspect of your diagnosis that must be considered before you and your oncologist settle on a treatment plan.
Your treatment may be as minimal as a lumpectomy with a sentinel node biopsy, followed by radiation and five years of hormone therapy. But if you have a tumor located deep inside your breast, or a strong family history of breast cancer, you might consider a skin-sparing mastectomy with immediate reconstruction as well as a lymph node biopsy, to rule out metastasis.
Regardless of which surgery you have, your oncologist may recommend additional treatments to lower your risk of a recurrence. Those therapies could include radiation, chemotherapy, hormone therapy, or a combination of treatments aimed at other aspects of your diagnosis.
Your Prognosis And Emotions
When you've been diagnosed with stage 1 breast cancer, you may seek out a support group or a forum of patients with a similar diagnosis. This is a good idea, as you can learn much from those who have gone down this road before you. But keep in mind that your emotions may be just as strong as other patients with later-stage breast cancer, even though your prognosis is very different. Anyone who has been told, "You have cancer" will have a gamut of emotions including fear, worry, confusion, panic, blame, and hopefully acceptance. Your emotions are valid, no matter what your cancer stage may be. Those with more advanced disease may be supportive of you, but they may also be dismissive of your feelings. Try not to let this bother you, but just focus on your own survival and recovery. Maintain hope and stay the course. Make plans to survive and then reach back and help others who come after you.
AJCC Cancer Staging Manual 6th Edition. Springer Verlag, New York, NY. 2002, pp. 223-240.
Breast cancer survival rates by stage. American Cancer Society. Last Revised: 06/11/2012.
Stages of Breast Cancer. Stage I. National Cancer Institute. Last Modified: 06/21/2012
What Kind of Breast Cancer Do I Have: Staging. Pp. 303-321. Dr. Susan Love's Breast Book. Susan M. Love, M.D. Fifth Edition, 2010.