How fast does breast cancer spread?
People who have recently been diagnosed with breast cancer may wonder how fast it could grow or spread. It’s hard to predict because cancer occurs due to mutations in human cells, and mutations do not follow normal, predictable patterns of cell division. It also depends on the type, grade, and stage of breast cancer, and whether or not it’s invasive or noninvasive. The best resource for determining how quickly your breast cancer may spread or grow are your OHC doctors.
At OHC, we understand how a cancer diagnosis can affect your home, work and personal life, as well as that of your family. Our team of medical and radiation oncologist, researchers, advanced practice providers, and genetic counselors work with you to develop a treatment plan that includes therapy options to stop the growth and spread of breast cancer. Here are factors taken into consideration when determining if or when your cancer may grow or spread.
Doctors grade breast cancer based on how much the cancer cells look like normal breast cells. A higher grade means that it’s is more likely to grow faster and to spread to other areas of the breast or body. Grade 1 is a slower-growing cancer and grade 3 is a faster-growing cancer.
Doctors describe the extent of breast cancer progression in stages. Cancer that has already spread to other areas of the body is considered stage 4 and is more likely to spread further. The stages of breast cancer are as follows:
- Stage 0. Doctors consider breast cancer at this stage noninvasive, and it is only present in the ducts or the lobules. Ductal carcinoma in situ is a form of stage 0 breast cancer.
- Stage 1. Breast cancer at this stage is invasive, but it remains small and near the primary site. Stage 1A involves tumors that are 2 centimeters or smaller and have not reached the lymph nodes. At stage 1B, the cancer has reached the lymph nodes.
- Stage 2. Stage 2 breast cancer is invasive, tumors may be larger than in stage 1, and the cancer may have spread to the lymph nodes.
- Stage 3. Stage 3 breast cancer is invasive, tumors may be larger, and cancer has spread to the lymph nodes, possibly to several. Breast cancer at this stage has not spread to other organs.
- Stage 4. Breast cancer has developed in other areas of the body outside the breast and lymph nodes, often in the bones, lungs, brain, or liver. Treatment at this stage focuses on controlling the cancer and preventing it from spreading any farther.
Invasive or not
Noninvasive breast cancer will not spread beyond the ducts or lobules. Invasive breast cancer can spread to the surrounding connective tissue, the lymph nodes, and other areas of the body.
Personal factors can affect the speed at which breast cancer can growth or spread within a year. This includes age at diagnosis, hormone status (pre- or post-menopausal), personal and family history of breast cancer, and exposure to alcohol, cigarettes, or pollution.
Another factor is the growth rate of the cancer cells. It is hard to estimate cancer growth because not all cancer cells multiply and divide at the same speed. In most cases, breast cancer initially develops in either the milk ducts or the lobules. From there, it can spread to the connective tissue then to the surrounding lymph nodes. Once in the lymph nodes, the cancer cells can enter the lymphatic system or the bloodstream, where they can move to other areas of the body.
Breast cancer is typically treated with surgery, radiation or chemotherapy, or a combination of these. One of the greatest benefits of choosing OHC for your care is that we give our patients access to the newest treatments through clinical trials. When our breast cancer patients participate in clinical trials, we are giving them the opportunity to use new treatments that other patients can’t get outside of a trial.
The goal of treatment is always to try to destroy the cancer and prevent further growth to reduce the risk of recurrence. Stage 4 breast cancer is not curable, and treatment aims to shrink the cancer when possible and prevent it from growing or spreading any farther. While a person with stage 4 cancer may never be cancer-free, controlling the cancer is still considered a positive outcome in this situation.
If you or someone you know is concerned about breast cancer or has been diagnosed, contact OHC at 1-800-710-4674 or visit ohcare.com if you’d like to meet with one of our cancer experts for a diagnosis, a second opinion, or to discuss treatments.
OHC (Oncology Hematology Care) has been fighting cancer on the front lines for more than three decades. We are the region’s leading experts in the treatment of nearly every form of adult cancer and complex blood disorder. OHC offers the latest medical, gynecologic, and radiation therapy, and is always seeking better treatment options through participation in clinical trials. OHC is certified by the American Society for Clinical Oncology in the Quality Oncology Practice Initiative Certification Program, is an accredited Oncology Medical Home, and is one of only 179 practices nationally to be accepted into the Medicare Oncology Initiative. At its heart, our approach to cancer care is simple – to surround you with everything you need so you can focus on what matters most: beating cancer.