Well, as you’ve probably heard, I have been diagnosed with Invasive Ductal Carcinoma (IDC). The cancer started in my breast (milk duct to be exact), then broke through the wall of the duct, spread to the fatty tissue of the breast and then spread to my lymphatic system (lymph nodes). About 80% of all breast cancers are IDC, however mine is a higher risk kind due to the grade of the tumors and certain hormone receptors that came back positive, as you’ll read below.
Tumors are graded on a scale of 1-3, 3 being the worst. Mine are considered a 3. The grade of the tumor has to do with how the cells appear under a microscope in relation to normal breast tissue and how dense they are.
Cancers are also divided into different groups, called stages, based on whether the cancer is invasive or non-invasive, how many lymph nodes are involved, and whether there is spread to other parts of the body (for breast cancer, that would be bone, liver, lungs and brain). There are 3 categories used to stage breast cancer. The T categoy is based on the size of the tumors. I fall in T2, meaning the cancer is more than 2cm but not more than 5cm in diameter (per tumor). The N category is based on which of the lymph nodes near the breast, if any, are affected by the cancer. I fall in N1, meaning the cancer is pathological and has spread to 1-3 lymph nodes under the arm (they found that mine has spread to two during the biopsy but after chemo and surgery they said I probably had a lot more). The M category depends on whether the cancer has spread to any distant tissues and organs. I am M0, or no further spread, thank God because that would have been stage IV, incurable. All of this brings my “stage” of cancer to Stage IIB/III. Once surgery is complete, they may find other lymph nodes affected that weren’t detected on my scans and previous tests, but for right now, I’m stage IIB.
There are a few other factors associated with my cancer that make mine higher risk. For example, my cancer tested positive for over-aplified or over-expressed HER2+. About 15-20% of breast cancers have too much of a growth-promoting protein called HER2 and too many copies (i.e., more than 2; mine registered 21 but they said anything over 3, whether it was 4 or 50 was the same level of high risk) of the gene that instructs the cells to produce this protein. Tumors with increased levels of HER2 are referred to as HER+. HER2+ breast cancer tumors tend to grow and spread more rapidly than other breast cancers, making them higher risk. I’ve read elsewhere though that chemo works more effectively on faster growing cancers.
I (or my cancer, not sure what is appropriate) also tested positive for ER+ (Estrogen Receptors), which means the cancers grows and spreads faster with estrogen (which I had plenty of while on fertility treatments), and why it spread to my lymph nodes when I got pregnant.