Stages of Breast Cancer

There is a noticeable increase in diagnosis in the number of young breast cancer patients in Ghana. Dr. Nokwanda Zuma is an Oncologist at St Philip's Private Hospital. She says that breast cancer is no longer an elderly person’s disease. “Previously, many decades ago, we would typically see breast cancer in patients over the age of 48. But now we have patients who are 29 years old, who are in the prime of their lives.”

Dr. Zuma says there are several reasons for this increased diagnosis. “I think lifestyle does play a role. We are a very stressed-out demographic. But, genetics, increased access to. medical care and knowledge about breast care also plays a role in this trend towards younger people presenting with breast cancer.”

She says that a lot of patients from African communities are presenting with cancers that include the aggressive types, as well. “So, it’s no longer old patients, but also younger patients who live a healthy lifestyle, who don’t smoke, who exercise and who are not overweight.

“It is so important for people to know their family history, and this is so that you can be more alert and start examining your breasts at home. When you feel a lump in your breast, do not dismiss it thinking that you’re young. Go to see your GP or specialist so that they can do more investigations around your lump.”

Staging Breast Cancer

Dr. Zuma says there are a number of tools physicians have at their disposal to determine what type of cancer you might have. “Technology has advanced and there are more screening and testing tools that help us diagnose cancer and understand the prevalence of cancers.”
She says the degree of suspicion has led to a high index of diagnosis.
“A patient would come to me with a lump and if I suspect that they may have a malignancy, I will send them for a mammogram and an ultrasound of their breasts. That shows that this could be cancer. Then, I would send them to a surgeon or radiologist who would biopsy the lump and if the results come back with positive signs of cancer, then I would work on staging investigations to see how far the cancer has progressed.”
Breast cancer staging would include determining if the cancer has reached lymph nodes in the armpit or the surrounding glands or if the cancer has traveled to other organs like the liver and how far away from the original site (the breast) the cancer has traveled to.

Stage 1

According to Dr. Zuma, this is where your tumour is less than two centimeters and is limited to the breast only.

Stage 2

Stage two breast cancer is where I would find slightly bigger masses of two to four centimeters in diameter. At this stage, I might also find that cancer has reached some lymph nodes.

Stage 3

Stage three breast cancer involves cancer that has progressed to the skin and is perhaps attached to the chest wall.

Stage 4

Stage four breast cancer is more advanced. Dr. Zuma says stage four is when the cancer spreads from the breast to other organs such as bones, liver, lungs, and other organs.”

“Cancers can be very aggressive or slow progressing. The treatments for it include radiation, chemotherapy, immunotherapy, targeted therapy, and surgery, but as always, your chances of overcoming it are drastically improved with an earlier diagnosis.

She says it’s important that every cancer patient remembers that from the time of diagnoses, regardless of stage, the cancer patient will never be alone.

“Whenever you are diagnosed with cancer, you’ll never be alone. Whether it’s your doctor, or your chemo nurse, or a psychologist, somebody has walked the journey before and they will walk with you, too.