Some women believe that because the breast cancer tumor has “been in there” longer—despite slow growth—that this means it’s more dangerous than one that’s been present for only a short time but growing faster.
So for some women, this begs the question of whether or not the lingering nature of a slow growing breast cancer means that it’s more harmful to the body than a quickly growing (aggressive) one that’s been present for a shorter amount of time.
“No, the duration that the tumor has been present has no bearing on outcome,” says Mylaine Riobe, MD, founder of Riobe Institute of Integrative Medicine. Dr. Riobe, who’s board certified in ob/gyn and integrative medicine, is the author of “The Answer to Cancer.”
She explains, “Inflammatory breast cancer, which is rapidly growing and aggressive, has a more ominous outcome than the slower growing tumors.
“The presence or absence of estrogen receptors is also related to poor prognosis, with absence of these receptors correlating with worse outcomes.”
This type of breast cancer (absence of the receptors) is called triple negative.
The outcomes are worse than for hormone-influenced breast cancers because treatments for triple negative consist of only surgery, chemo and radiation, rather than also hormone-based treatments.
“Cancer cells tend to reproduce very slowly, and due to the limitations of our current diagnostic tools, the tumors are usually quite large (one cm) at the time of detection,” says Dr. Riobe.
A breast cancer cell mass doubles every 100 days. Thus, one cell will be two in a hundred days.
Those two cells will be four in another 100 days; and eight in another hundred days. That’s 300 days to go from one cell to eight.
That sure sounds like super slow growth, and the presence of those cancer cells being in your breast for 300 days – a long time – again, has no bearing on prognosis or how harmful those cells are.
However, the concept of exponential growth needs to be considered. If you double a penny every day for 30 days, you’ll have over five million dollars at day 30. Yet it takes eight days just to get to one dollar!
This phenomenon applies to breast cancer cells doubling every 100 days. The growth starts off exceedingly slow.
At some point, there’ll be an explosion of growth every time the mass doubles.
A half centimeter mass becomes a full centimeter after 100 days. Tack on another 100 days and you have a two centimeter mass.
In 300 days you go from a one centimeter tumor to four centimeters!
This is why breast cancer is so curable when detected at very early stages.
And it’s why breast cancer has a poor prognosis when caught at later stages.