In the U.S., over 90 percent of breast cancer diagnoses happen during the early breast cancer stages. Early detection is good news for the patient as it often translates to effective treatment. Nonetheless, early diagnosis is only a fraction of the whole medical picture. Other disease characteristics, like hormone receptors and lymph nodes, can aid in prognosing results and help doctors and patients choose the right treatment.

Though breast cancer rates are increasing in North America and the United Kingdom, the fatality rate is falling. This declining death rate is accredited to more women getting mammograms, better evaluation processes, and more potent secondary treatments.

So, if most cases of breast cancer are detected during the early stages, what does that mean and how can it be treated?

An Overview of the Earlier Symptoms of this Disease

Earlier breast cancer stages are called TNM stages 1, 2 and 3a. This scoring system approximates how far the carcinoma has advanced. It's also based on whether any present tumors are operable.

The majority of early breast cancer cases are cured through either surgery, radiation therapy, systemic therapy or a combination of the three, resulting in a much greater survival rate.

Typical Treatment Response

Treatment reaction generally hinges on lymph node engagement, the size and grade of any tumors, the age of the patient, hormone (estrogen and progesterone) receptors, and the status or condition of biologic markers like HER2/neu.

Lymph Node Indicators

One of the most effective prognostic indicators for breast cancer are lymph nodes. As the number of positive lymph nodes increases, survival rates decrease and relapse rates go on the uprise.

Typically, patients with early stage breast cancer are grouped into either those having negative nodes, 1 to 3 positive ones, 4 to 9, or 10 and higher.

The Size of Tumor

If a patient exhibits negative lymph nodes and a tumor that is smaller than 1cm, the prognosis is often very good. Most doctors use tumor size as an effective and critical indicator during the early stages of this disease.

The Grade of Tumor

The lower the tumor grade, the lower the risk for relapse. Nevertheless, due to the undependability of tumor information, most pathologists don't trust this data for their medical assessment.

Hormone Receptors

The status of hormone receptors in the tumor is another indicator used by doctors when prognosing early stage breast cancer. Typically, patients who experience a receptor-positive cancer have a stronger survival rate than those who do not.

HER2/neu as an Indicator

HER2/neu is a tumor marker that is expressed in approximately a quarter of all breast cancer cases. If its numbers are high, this is usually associated with a more aggressive form of breast cancer.

Age of the Patient

Generally, patients who are older (50 and up) have a better prognosis than patients under the age of 35.

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