Everyone who knows me knows that I’m an overachiever. Anything less than an A in school was devastating. I used to come home from school with a 98 on a test and my mom would say, “Where are the other two points?” So, I always strive for 100%.
When it comes to cancer, however, a higher grade is not always better. Cancer tumors are measured in many different ways. One way is it’s stage; with breast cancer that means, how large is the tumor and where has it spread. The grade, which is different than the stage, compares the tumor cell to the breast cell and tells us how aggressive the tumor is. If the tumor is a Grade 1, than it is similar to a breast cancer cell, a low grade and well-differentiated. It is also the slowest growing of the tumors. Grade 2 is a faster growing tumor and is moderately-differentiated. Grade 3 is one of the fastest growing tumors (I think there is a grade 4) and is poorly-differentiated.
Ever the overachiever in everything I do, my cancer is no exception. My tumor is a grade 3 which explains why it grew so damn quickly. Less than I year before, two doctors felt my boobies and felt nothing. Suddenly, in August, I had two sizable tumors in my right breast plus in two lymph nodes. When I see an oncologist or doctor they always say, “It’s great because you are early stage but you are very high risk.” It’s because of this grade that I am high risk and the reason behind all of the treatment I am receiving. The answer to an aggressive cancer is aggressive treatment: mastectomy, chemotherapy, radiation and hormone therapy.*
When you get a cancer diagnosis (and I hope you never do), it’s not enough to know just the stage. It’s important to know and understand your grade. If you are as unlucky as I am to get a breast cancer diagnosis, I hope you get a low grade, just this once.
Watch a video here that explains what each grade means when talking about breast cancer.
*This was the treatment recommended for me by my oncologist. Not every tumor and cancer will need to be treated this way. Discuss with your oncologist the best treatment for your type of cancer.