Making a breast cancer prognosis isn’t always a simple cut-and-dried process. This is also true for breast cancer that has spread to the lungs. Several factors can affect the prognosis, according to the American Cancer Society. Those factors can include age, health, and tumor characteristics (see Resource 1).
Almost one out of every eight women is likely to get breast cancer during her lifetime, according to the American Cancer Institute, and one out of every 35 is likely to die from it (see Resource 2). In addition, in the United States, breast cancer is the second-most common cancer (after skin cancer). But breast cancer can spread into other parts of the body, affecting the prognosis.
Prognosis and Breast Cancer
To provide a breast cancer patient with the most accurate prognosis for recovery — and the best treatment options — a doctor must evaluate how far the cancer has spread within the breast as well as the rest of the body. In fact, according to the American Cancer Society, knowing the breast cancer stage will be a major factor in prognosis determination.
Sometimes the breast cancer stage is arrived at through a biopsy, a physical exam or a test (known as a clinical stage). Other times it is arrived at through testing results coupled with actual surgery (known as the pathologic stage).
Prognosis and the Cancer Stage Classification
The American Joint Committee on Cancer (AJCC) is credited with developing the breast cancer classification system TNM (tumor, nodes, metastasis). This system is used to help analyze breast cancer by tumor size (T), whether it has infiltrated the lymph nodes — and how many lymph nodes have been infected if it has (N), as well as its recognized spread into organs within the body (M).
Letters (TNM) and numbers (Stage 0, 1, 2, 3 and 4) are used in this classification system and aid doctors in classifying each type and stage of breast cancer. For example, the letter M and the Stage IV represent breast cancer that has metastasized into an organ of the body, like the lungs.
Prognosis Factors and Validity
But just knowing the breast cancer stage isn’t all the doctor will consider when determining a patient’s prognosis for breast cancer that has spread to the lungs or elsewhere. Doctors generally also consider other factors, too (age, overall health, tumor characteristics) before making a prognosis, especially for breast cancer that has spread to the lungs.
The American Cancer Society lists breast cancer that spreads into the lung (or any other organ) as a Stage IV cancer — and that type of cancer has an estimated five-year survival rate of 20 percent, according to the National Cancer Institute’s Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results (SEER).
But an individual may have a better prognosis than this 1988 to 2001 database-generated statistic, according to the American Cancer Society. This is because doctors don’t make the prognosis based on statistics; they make it based on many factors, and each individual’s case (and cancer characteristics) is different.