Starting Your Cancer Treatment

Over the past few weeks, you've likely been through a lot. In order to diagnose your cancer, you probably had a core-needle biopsy—90% of women do. In a core-needle biopsy, a doctor uses a thin, hollow needle to remove tissue from a breast mass.

Your other option was a surgical (excisional) biopsy. This procedure involves removing a larger portion of the abnormal area. But excisional biopsies are reserved for the one in 10 cases where it would be hard to get an adequate tissue sample with a core-needle biopsy, or where a suspicious growth is close to the chest wall.

Having a biopsy isn't anyone's idea of fun, but the findings help determine the right course of treatment, so it's an important part of the process!

One of the goals over the next few weeks is to determine the "stage" of your cancer.

Here are some common terms you'll be hearing:
  • Lobular carcinoma in situ (LCIS). Even though this is classified as a Stage 0 breast cancer, it does not progress to a more serious cancer at the biopsy site. In this case, abnormal cells are found in the breast lobules—parts of the breast capable of producing milk. Doctors usually manage LCIS as a risk factor for invasive cancer; like a family history of breast cancer, it means a woman has an elevated risk for developing a true cancer in either breast.
  • Ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS). This is considered Stage 0 breast cancer. It's a noninvasive condition in which abnormal cells are found only in the lining of the breast ducts. Untreated DCIS may turn into invasive cancer, but it's hard to predict whether or when this might happen.
  • Stages I through IV. There are several subtypes within these stages, but the bottom line is that these are all true, invasive cancers. If your cancer isn't a DCIS, it will be given a number based on the size of the tumor, how many lymph nodes contain cancer cells, and whether the cancer has spread to your chest wall, breast skin, or other organs. For more details about what these numbers mean, see the chart below.
   Stages of breast cancer
0 Noninvasive Cancer cells contained within the breast ducts only
I Invasive Early stage, tumor less than 2 centimeters (cm),
with no or microscopic involvement of lymph nodes
II Invasive Early stage, tumor greater than 2 cm in size, or with spread to underarm lymph nodes
III Invasive Tumor with more extensive lymph node involvement, or greater than 5 cm with any spread to underarm lymph nodes
IV Invasive Metastatic (with spread to other parts of the body)


More Articles
Starting Your Cancer Treatment
Your Healthcare Team
What Your Pathology Report Reveals
Getting a Second Opinion

What Other Tests Can Tell You
Understanding Lymph Nodes
Must-Know Definitions
More Resources

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