Stage 1 or 2 – Early Breast Cancer
Stage 1 and 2 breast cancer refers to invasive breast cancer that is contained within the breast, and may or may not have spread to the lymph nodes in the armpit. These stages are also known as early stage breast cancer.
At Stage 1 and 2, some cancer cells may have spread outside the breast and armpit area, but at this stage these cannot be detected.
What is Stage 1 breast cancer?
Stage 1 breast cancer is the earliest stage of invasive breast cancer. The breast cancer has spread from its original location (in the ducts or lobules) to the surrounding tissue but it is still contained in a relatively small area.
If you are diagnosed with Stage 1 breast cancer, this means that the tumour is less than 2 centimetres in size. No cancer cells have been found in the lymph nodes or other parts of the body at this stage.
What is Stage 2 breast cancer?
Stage 2 breast cancers are larger than stage 1 breast cancers and/or have spread to a few nearby lymph nodes. Stage 2 breast cancer can also be categorised into the following groups:
If you are diagnosed with Stage 2A breast cancer, it means that one of the following can be applied to you:
You have a tumour, but it is less than 2 centimetres in size. Cancer cells have spread to 1-3 lymph nodes in the armpit.
You have a tumour of between 2 and 5 centimetres in size, but the cancer has not yet spread to the lymph nodes.
No tumour has been found in the breast. However, breast cancer cells have been found in 1-3 lymph nodes in the armpit.
If you are diagnosed with Stage 2B breast cancer, it means that one of the following applies to you:
You have a tumour, and it is between 2 centimetres and 5 centimetres in size, and the cancer has spread to 1-3 lymph nodes in the armpit.
You have a tumour which is larger than 5 centimetres but there is no spread to the lymph nodes.
Some Stage 2B breast cancers are referred to as locally advanced breast cancers.
Types of Stage 1 and 2 breast cancer
The most common types of invasive breast cancers are named after the area of the breast where they begin. Types of early breast cancers include:
- Invasive ductal carcinoma (IDC) – IDC means that the cancer originated in the milk ducts of the breast, and has spread into the surrounding breast tissue. IDC is the most common type of breast cancer, accounting for 80% of all breast cancers.
- Invasive lobular carcinoma (ILC) – ILC means that the cancer originated in the milk-producing lobules (glands) of the breast, and has spread into the surrounding breast tissue. ILC is the second most common type of breast cancer, and accounts for 10% of breast cancers.
- There are also other less common forms of invasive breast cancer, such as inflammatory breast cancer and Paget’s disease of the nipple. For more information on the various types of invasive breast cancer, including the less common forms, please visit Types of Breast Cancer page.
Treatment for early stage breast cancer
If you are diagnosed with early stage breast cancer, the aim of treatment is to remove the breast cancer and any other cancer cells that remain in the breast, armpit or other parts of the body but cannot be detected.
Treatment for early stage breast cancer can vary from person to person. The stage (extent) of your breast cancer is an important factor when making decisions about treatment. However, the most suitable treatment for you also depends on other factors, such as where the cancer is in the breast, the cancer’s grade, and whether the cancer is hormone receptor-positive, HER2 positive or triple-negative. Your doctor will also consider your age, general health and preferences.
Treatment for early breast cancer may involve:
- Breast surgery – It is common at this stage to operate to remove the cancer. The main options are breast conserving surgery (usually followed by radiotherapy) or mastectomy. Both types of surgery usually involve the removal of one or more lymph nodes from the armpit.
- Radiotherapy – Radiotherapy is generally recommended after breast conserving surgery to destroy any remaining cancer cells left in the breast. It also helps reduce the risk of cancer coming back (recurring) in the affected breast. Radiotherapy is sometimes recommended after mastectomy.
- Chemotherapy – Patients of early stage breast cancer may be recommended chemotherapy if there is a risk that cancer cells have spread outside the area of the breast and armpit. Chemotherapy can reduce the chance of the cancer returning and improve chances of survival.
- Hormonal therapies – Hormonal therapies are drugs used to treat breast cancers with hormone receptors on their breast cancer cells, including early stage breast cancers. It can reduce the chance of the cancer returning, and in some cases can increase chances of survival. There are different types of hormone therapy. The options recommended will depend on the risk of cancer recurring, whether you have reached menopause and the potential treatment side effects.
- Targeted therapies – Targeted therapies are drugs used to treat particular types of breast cancers. This type of therapy is only suitable for some patients, and may be used in combination with other breast cancer treatments. One common targeted therapy used to treat early breast cancer is trastuzumab (brand name Herceptin) which is used to treat HER2 positive breast cancer.
Usually more than one treatment is used. Treatment may be given in different orders and combinations. Learn more about different treatment options here.
Survival rates of Stage 1 and Stage 2 breast cancer
According to data from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, the earlier breast cancer is first diagnosed, the better the outcome. The survival rates of people diagnosed with breast cancer have also improved over time due to earlier detection and improvements in treatment. Most people with early stage breast cancer can be treated successfully.
You may wish to discuss your prognosis (expected outcome of disease) and treatment options with your doctors. However, it is not possible to predict the exact course of your cancer and how long you will live. The length of survival can vary from person to person. Factors that influence this include:
- Response to treatment
- The type of breast cancer that you have
- The rate of tumour growth
- Other factors such as your age, medical history and overall health.
How treatment can impact survival of early stage breast cancer
In most cases, the earlier breast cancer is first diagnosed and treated, the better the chance of survival. Cancer cells often become more difficult to treat and may develop drug resistance once they spread. The aim of treatment for Stage 1 and 2 breast cancer is to remove the breast cancer, and any other cancer cells that remain in the breast, armpit or other parts of the body but cannot be detected. Having treatment at this stage can also reduce the risk of the cancer coming back.
- Stages of Breast Cancer
- Stage 3 – Locally Advanced Cancer
- Stage 4 – Metastatic Breast Cancer
- Molecular Types of Breast Cancer
Symptoms of breast cancer will depend on where the tumour is, the size of the tumour, the type of breast cancer and how quickly it is growing in the breast. The symptoms of breast cancer vary from person to person, but it is possible for breast cancer to cause pain. If a persistent, unusual pain in your breast doesn’t go away, seek medical advice without delay.
Early breast cancer, also referred to as stage 1 or 2, can be detected by being breast aware (noticing changes in the look or feel of your breasts) having a breast examination conducted by a doctor or detection via breast screening (such as a mammogram). If your doctor suspects you may have breast cancer, a breast biopsy or surgery will be used to confirm this diagnosis and also help to distinguish what stage of breast cancer you may have.
The most suitable treatment depends on the stage of the breast cancer (size of the tumour and extend of spread), where the cancer is in the breast, the cancer’s grade (appearance of the cancer cells), and whether the cancer is hormone receptor-positive, HER2 positive or triple-negative. Treatment options may include surgery, radiotherapy, chemotherapy, hormonal therapies and/or targeted therapies – often involving more than one treatment type.
Stage 1 breast cancer is the earliest stage of invasive breast cancer. The breast cancer has spread from its original location (in the ducts or lobules) to the surrounding breast tissue but it is still contained in a relatively small area. Stage 1 breast cancer means that the tumour is less than 2 centimetres in size. No cancer cells have been found in the lymph nodes or other parts of the body at this stage .
Stage 2 breast cancers are larger than stage 1 breast cancers and may have spread to a few nearby lymph nodes. It is categorised as Stage 2A or Stage 2B depending on the size of the tumour and presence or absence of cancer cells in nearby lymph nodes. Read about the differences between Stage 2A and 2B above.