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Staging Cancer: March 31, 2012

It started with a mammogram. Karolee Meek found she had breast cancer.

“I have a bright future. I have my family, my loved ones around me and that’s what makes the difference.”

The first thing doctors did was put her through a series of tests to stage the severity of disease.

“Typically the way that we stage cancers are based on three criteria and I think this is very confusing for people a lot of times,” says Dr. Lea Blackwell, a breast surgical oncologist on the medical staff of Lee Memorial Health System.

The stage is like a snapshot of where the cancer is when someone is diagnosed. It’s classified as Stage 1 through 4 based on a system, which looks at the tumor, lymph nodes and metastasis, or TNM.

“A less than two centimeter tumor is typically Stage 1. If there’s lymph node involvement then its Stage II,” says Dr. Blackwell.

Stage III is based on a combination of factors.

“And then if there’s cancer other places besides the breast which would be Stage IV and that’s the highest stage,” says Dr. Blackwell.

In Karolee’s case, the breast cancer had metastasized.

“I was diagnosed with Stage IV, they had found a tumor in my brain.”

Surgeons removed the brain tumor first. Knowing the extent of disease is allowing her oncologist to form a treatment plan.

“I have a wonderful team of doctors. With a great positive attitude, I will go through anything,” says Meek.

By staging her disease, doctors are giving her the best chance of fighting it.