Each year, more than 50,000 women in the U.S. are diagnosed with a non-invasive breast cancer that may never evolve into a more serious condition. On the other hand, these same women are also told that it may lead to surgery, chemotherapy or even death.
Known as "stage zero," the cancer isn't actually in the breast tissue but in the ducts that connect to the nipples. The abnormal cancer cells are present but haven't travelled anywhere, and there's often little chance they will.
Known as DCIS, or ductal carcinoma in situ, stage zero cancer is 90 percent curable when found. Problems arise, however, when a physician tries to diagnose the early-stage cancer. Subsequent stages, from one to four (with four being the most problematic), serve to describe cancers that have travelled beyond staging areas.
If cancer cells are found in stage zero cancer, doctors differ on treatment. Some, realizing it's not invasive cancer, take a more cautious approach to treatment, while others are far more aggressive and even recommend surgery.
Some doctors prescribe monitoring the patient, while other doctors may suggest a mastectomy to completely remove the breast. The range in treatment of stage zero cancer has left many women questioning their options.
Whatever the diagnosis, experts say it is always best to get a second opinion. In some cases the early-detection diagnosis could be wrong and a woman could go through different treatments and undergo surgeries when the surgery isn't absolutely necessary. In other cases, when the diagnosis is confirmed, chemotherapy and surgery could be far too radical for a cancer that is in its infant stages.
Stage zero cancer can be troublesome for physicians because of the potential malpractice claims. Though at stage zero, the cancer cells are there, and despite the high probability the condition will not worsen, failure to monitor or even take action could lead to a claim if the cells do spread.
Related Resource: New York Times "Prone to Error - Earliest Steps to Find Cancer"