Stage 3 breast cancer refers to cancer in the breast that has spread to several nearby lymph nodes. Doctors also describe breast cancer as stage 3 if a tumor is larger than 5 centimeters and cancer has spread to any lymph nodes, but not to distant organs.
At stage 3, breast cancer may also spread to the chest wall or the skin of the breast.
Receiving a stage 3 cancer diagnosis can be distressing, but life expectancy and treatments are improving all the time.
This article looks at the survival rates for stage 3 breast cancer, as well as treatment options, remission, and ways of coping with the diagnosis.
Life expectancy and survival rates
According to the National Cancer Institute in the United States, the survival rate for women with stage 3 breast cancer over a 5-year period is approximately 72 percent.
This means that 72 out of 100 women are expected to be alive 5 years after their diagnosis.
For men with stage 3 breast cancer, the 5-year survival rate is slightly higher, at 75 percent.
By comparison, the survival rate for women with stage 0 or stage 1 breast cancer is almost 100 percent. For stage 2 breast cancer, the survival rate is about 93 percent, and for stage 4 it is about 22 percent.
For men, these figures are 100 percent for stages 0 and 1, 87 percent for stage 2, and 25 percent for stage 4.
However, an individual’s life expectancy depends upon a variety of factors. Age, fitness, response to treatment, sex, the size of tumors, and many other factors can affect a person’s life expectancy.
According to the American Cancer Society, cancer treatment and outlook are improving all the time.
Also, a study that tracks survival rates over 5 years will reflect the state of medical knowledge 5 years ago. This means that cancer survival rates may be better than the statistics indicate.
To get a more accurate estimation of life expectancy, speak with a doctor.
Treatment of stage 3 breast cancer typically involves a combination of medication and surgery, based on a person’s particular circumstances.
Drug-based treatments can include chemotherapy, targeted cancer drugs, hormone therapy or a combination.
Chemotherapy involves destroying cancer cells with anticancer drugs. There are many side effects of chemotherapy, but they usually subside, once a person has finished treatment.
Side effects of chemotherapy can include:
- increased risk of infection
- bruising and bleeding
- hair loss
- mouth and dental problems
- skin and nail changes
- memory and concentration issues
- menopause symptoms
A treatment plan may begin with drug-based therapies. The goal is to reduce the size of the tumor so that surgeons can safely remove it.
If a large tumor does not shrink enough, the doctor may recommend removing the whole breast. This is called a mastectomy.
When surgeons remove only the tumor, the procedure is called a lumpectomy.
After surgery, a person may receive radiotherapy and possibly more chemotherapy. This helps reduce the chance of cancer returning.
If the tumor is small enough, a doctor may begin by recommending surgery, followed by chemotherapy and radiotherapy.
Some types of breast cancer respond to hormone therapy, in which case the doctor will prescribe hormone therapy for several years after the initial treatment is complete.
Remission is when symptoms of cancer completely or almost completely disappear. Remission can be either partial or complete.
Partial remission means that some cancer has disappeared after treatment. Complete remission means that doctors can detect no sign of cancer.
Remission does not necessarily mean that there is no cancer in a person’s body, only that the doctor cannot detect any.
Cancer may never return. However, it is impossible to be sure that all the cancer has gone so it may return in the future.
If this happens, doctors describe the cancer as recurring. A person may need to manage cycles of remission and recurrence for many years.
In some people, the presence of cancer neither grows nor decreases. Doctors refer to the cancer as controlled or stable.
Despite significant improvements in detection and treatment, many people experience fear or trauma after a cancer diagnosis.
A person may experience a wide range of emotions when receiving a breast cancer diagnosis, and each person’s response is unique.
It may be helpful to speak to loved ones and to others dealing with similar diagnoses. A person may also wish to avoid overexertion and take time for themselves.
Significant physical and psychological changes can occur during breast cancer treatment. The side effects of chemotherapy, for example, can significantly reduce a person’s quality of life.
After a mastectomy, a person may find the change in their body emotionally challenging. The removal of one or both breasts can affect a person’s sense of identity, sexuality, and their sexual relationships. This may be especially true for younger women.
For some people, long-term hormone therapy can have ongoing side effects, including fatigue, cognitive changes, and menopause symptoms.
It can help to speak with a doctor about support groups. These are available online and may exist within a person’s community or town.
Life expectancy and survival rates for stage 3 breast cancer are improving all the time. The current 5-year survival rates for stage 3 breast cancer are 72 percent for women and 75 percent for men.
However, many factors influence a person’s life expectancy after a breast cancer diagnosis. A doctor can provide more detailed, personalized information.
Barbara Jacoby is an award winning blogger that has contributed her writings to multiple online publications that have touched readers worldwide.