What is early breast cancer?
Early breast cancer (stage I or II) is the most common invasive breast cancer in the United States.
Stage I breast cancers are smaller than two centimeters and have not spread to the lymph nodes in the armpit (axillary nodes). Stage II breast cancers are either larger or have spread to the axillary nodes.
Learn more about the stages of breast cancer.
Prognosis for early breast cancer
With treatment, people with early breast cancer usually have a good prognosis. The five-year overall survival for women with stage I breast cancer is 88 percent . This means 88 percent of women with stage I breast cancer live five years beyond their diagnosis. The five-year overall survival for women with stage IIA breast cancer is also very good at 81 percent . These rates are averages, though, and vary depending on each person’s diagnosis and treatment. They are also based on women diagnosed with breast cancer in 2001 and 2002. With improvements in treatment since that time, survival for women diagnosed today may be higher.
Treatment for early breast cancer
Although the exact treatment for breast cancer varies from person to person, guidelines help ensure quality care. These guidelines are based on the latest research and the consensus of experts. The American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) and National Comprehensive Care Network (NCCN) are two respected organizations that regularly update and post their guidelines online. The National Cancer Institute (NCI) also has overviews of treatment options.
You should ask your health care providers what guidelines they use as the basis of their care. Since there is often a time lag between the latest research and updates of treatment guidelines, most medical oncologists prefer to base their treatment on the latest research that ultimately drives these guidelines.
Playing an active role
You can play an active role in making treatment decisions by understanding your breast cancer, your treatment options and their possible side effects. Together, you and your health care provider can choose treatments that fit your values and lifestyle.
In September 2013, the Institute of Medicine (IOM) released a set of recommendations (below) on improving cancer care in the U.S. The report Delivering High-Quality Cancer Care: Charting a New Course for a System in Crisis recommends improvements to fix shortcomings that add cost and burden to cancer care. In the U.S., there are about 14 million cancer survivors and more than 1.6 million new cases are diagnosed each year. By 2022, the IOM projects that there will be 18 million cancer survivors and, by 2030, cancer incidence is expected to rise to 2.3 million new diagnoses per year. Therefore, the IOM convened a committee of experts to examine the quality of cancer care in the U.S. and made recommendations for improvement. The committee concluded that the cancer care delivery system is in crisis due to a growing demand for cancer care, increasing complexity of treatment, a shrinking workforce and rising costs. Changes across the board are urgently needed to improve the quality of cancer care.
Susan G. Komen® endorses these recommendations as they have special significance in the breast cancer field. “Issues of accessibility, quality treatments and survivorship are especially complex for breast cancer patients, who may be treated for many years,” said Chandini Portteus, Komen’s Chief Mission Officer.
The report identified key ways to improve quality of care:
- Ensure that cancer patients are engaged and understand their diagnosis so they can make informed treatment decisions with their health care providers
- Develop a trained and coordinated workforce of cancer professionals
- Focus on evidence-based care, using information technology to provide better information about the potential benefits of treatments
- Focus on quality measurements
- Provide accessible and affordable care for all
The study was chaired by a Susan G. Komen Scholar Patricia Ganz, M.D., with participation by Komen’s Chief Scientific Advisor, George Sledge, M.D. Komen was one of 13 organizations sponsoring the study. Read the full report at www.nas.edu and www.iom.edu.