Until breast cancer can be prevented, the greatest hope for its control is early detection, diagnosis and treatment. Breast cancer can be divided into 4 stages depending on the extent of disease. Staging can only be complete after surgery and removal of the axillary nodes (adequate number of them) or in some cases after the sentinel lymph node removal. This is a simplified account of the stages.
The cancer is 2 cm or less and confined to the breast
The cancer measures between 2-5 cm, or the lymph nodes (lymph glands in the armpit area) are involved, or both
The cancer is larger than 5 cm in size, or has involved the skin or underlying muscle, lymph nodes are usually affected, but there has been no further spread.
The cancer has spread to distant sites such as the lymph nodes in the neck, lungs, liver or bones.
The prognosis (outcome in the future years) of the woman with breast cancer depends on the stage at diagnosis. The five-year survival varies from 80% in Stage 1, 50-75% in Stage 2, 30-40% in Stage 3 and less than 10% in Stage 4.