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An Overview of Stage 3 Breast Cancer

written by: Vasanth • edited by: Diana Cooper • updated: 4/23/2011

Stage 3 breast cancer is an advanced form of the cancer characterized by a tumor and the presence of cancer cells in nearby lymph nodes. Stage 3 is divided into three sub-stages, depending on the location of the tumor and the specific lymph nodes to which the cancer has spread.

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    What is Breast Cancer?

    Breast cancer is an abnormal growth in the breast tissue. The cells making up these tissues become cancerous when they no longer reproduce properly. Normally, cells stop multiplying when they come into contact with each other. Cancerous cells don't respond to contact inhibition so they continue to divide.

    The cells form into lumps which can be benign or malignant. Benign tumors are not life threatening and can be safely removed without the risk of the growth spreading. Malignant tumors spread to nearby tissues including the chest wall. They can cause death and removal won't eliminate the risk of the cancer returning.

    There are several risk factors which increase the chance of developing breast cancer. Defects in the BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene increases the risk. A family history of breast cancer also increases the risk. Previous radiation therapy to the chest for other illnesses increases the risk of developing breast cancer.

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    Stage 3 Breast Cancer

    Breast cancer progresses through several stages over several years. Stage 3 breast cancer is an advanced form of the cancer. A tumor is present in the breast tissue and cancer cells have spread to nearby lymph nodes. There are three sub-stages which group the cancer based on where the tumor is and which lymph nodes the cancer has spread to.

    • Stage IIIA - The cancer has spread to either the underarm lymph nodes or to the lymph nodes behind the breastbone.
    • Stage IIIB - The tumor has grown into the chest wall or the skin of the breast. In rare cases, the breast may be inflamed and swollen.
    • Stage IIIC - The cancer has spread to both the underarm lymph nodes and the lymph nodes behind the breastbone. Also, cancer that has spread to lymph nodes above or below the collarbone are grouped in this stage.
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    Signs

    Signs of breast cancer in the early stages may not be apparent. By stage 3, the signs are noticeable. One of the signs of breast cancer is the presence of lumps in or around the breast tissue or under the arms. Changes in the size or shape of the breast and scaly, red or swollen skin around the nipple are other signs of breast cancer.

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    Treatment Options

    There are several treatment options for stage 3 breast cancer. Chemotherapy is usually given to patients to fight the cancer. It can destroy cancer cells and shrink the tumor. Surgery is used to remove the tumor and the surrounding tissue. In some cases, the entire breast is removed. The affected lymph nodes are removed as well. Radiation therapy is used to destroy cancer cells that remain. The eight year survival rate for stage three is about 40 percent.

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    Reference

    1. "Breast Cancer Staging." MedicineNet. http://www.medicinenet.com/breast_cancer/page11.htm#staging

    2. "Stage III Breast Cancer Treatment Options." WebMD. http://www.webmd.com/breast-cancer/stage-3-treatment-options