Major shift in breast cancer staging coming January 1
New cancer staging system will provide patients with a more precise prognosis and course of treatment
Breast cancer staging guidelines set by the American Joint Committee on Cancer’s (AJCC) that have been in place since the 1950s are being amended on January 1, 2018 in response to medical breakthroughs that have changed the way breast cancer is diagnosed and treated.
The staging system’s evolution is largely based on new molecular testing that determines the unique biology of each patient’s tumor, its level of risk, and how it will react to various cancer fighting drugs. The AJCC’s shift is also due to the growing focus on a tumor’s estrogen and progesterone receptors as well HER-2 cell-signaling molecules, which are like outstretched hands sometimes found on the surface of a tumor that wait for signals from the body.
“This is great news as each individual patient will now have a stage that reflects the specific biology and risks associated with their specific type of tumor,” explained Cory Donovan, M.D., breast surgeon at Legacy Medical Group – Surgical Oncology who is supporting Legacy Cancer Institute and its affiliated physicians adopt the new guidelines.
Historically, the AJCC’s cancer staging has been based the TNM Staging System, which stands for the size of tumor (T), number of lymph nodes that tested positive for cancer (N), and the presence or absence of metastasis (M). Effective January 1, the medical community across the United States will start staging their breast cancer patients based on their individual tumor’s biology in addition to tumor size, lymph nodes and metastases.
“Focusing on the tumor’s behavior instead of simply its size will provide patients with a more precise prognosis and a treatment plan tailored to their specific type of cancer down to the molecular level,” continued Dr. Donovan.
A largescale effort has been underway at Legacy Cancer Institute to prepare for these changes in its Cancer Registrar’s Office, which is where patient outcomes, quality and other data is closely tracked over time to ensure the best and most personalized care is consistently delivered to each patient.
“You can imagine that when you take all of this data into account, we won’t just have four groups of patients, but many different categories,” explained Dr. Donovan. “Initially, it may be a little confusing but ultimately will be much more helpful for our patients in understanding their prognosis and for physicians to chart the most effective treatment plan possible.”
The AJCC’s updated staging guidelines will also help advance cancer research by allowing physicians from across the country to compare their patients’ tumor type with others across the country who have the same type and then work together to determine what course of treatment will be most effective.
Click here to read the Oregonian’s story on the AJCC’s staging update featuring Dr. Donovan’s partner, Nathalie Johnson, M.D., medical director, Legacy Cancer Institute.
For more information about Legacy Cancer Institute’s breast health services, click here.
For media-related inquiries, contact Megan Deisler.