Locally advanced breast cancer is an advanced-stage tumor that has not spread to other body parts. Treatment such as chemotherapy can help reduce symptoms and slow disease progression.

People with locally advanced breast cancer (LABC) could undergo various types of treatment, including chemotherapy or surgery. The type of treatment and disease severity will affect the outlook for people with LABC. Keep reading to learn more about LABC symptoms, treatments, and outlook.

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LABC refers to an advanced stage of breast cancer that has only spread to local tissues. According to an article published in Current Oncology, the current criteria for LABC also includes one or more of the following:

  • tumors of any size that spread into the chest wall, skin, or both, with or without growth of the lymph nodes
  • tumors that are more than 5 centimeters (cm) with growth of the lymph nodes
  • presence of tumors at any stage alongside growth of local lymph nodes, such as those in the armpit and below the collarbone

According to BreastCancer.org, doctors may refer to breast cancer as locally advanced when the tumor is large and also affects:

  • the skin on the breast
  • underlying chest tissue
  • the physical appearance of the breast
  • the lymph nodes, causing noticeable growth

According to an article published in the International Journal of Women’s Health Wellness, people with LABC may experience symptoms that include:

  • a large tumor of at least 5 cm
  • skin ulcers
  • tumors within the chest
  • enlarged lymph nodes
  • damage to the breast skin or muscles
  • swelling or redness affecting the breast

Additional symptoms for severe cases include:

  • rapid increases in breast size
  • inflammation that can cause burning, aching, or tenderness in the breast
  • inverted nipples

LABC can be difficult to treat and requires aggressive forms of treatment. Treatment can ease symptoms and extend a person’s life expectancy.

An article in the International Journal of Women’s Health Wellness states that treatment will vary case-by-case. While there is currently no standard of treatment, some options can include:

Doctors are more frequently using neoadjuvant chemotherapy to treat LABC, which means chemotherapy before surgery. A 2019 study looked at 103 people with LABC who received neoadjuvant chemotherapy, surgery, and then radiotherapy afterward. The authors concluded that this treatment correlated with improved outlooks.

Learn more about neoadjuvant chemotherapy here.

These treatments can reduce the tumor’s size and risk of spreading. But the cancer may return again in the future.

A 2016 study suggests that the 5-year survival of people with LABC ranges from 1–30%, with an average survival rate of 2–2.5 years. The variation in these rates is due to differing definitions and types of LABC.

There are several factors that can affect the survival of a person with LABC. These include:

  • the final stage of the cancer
  • the extent of how locally advanced the disease is
  • how the disease has changed the tissue in the area

According to a different study in 2014, the average survival time for people with LABC was 8.25 years. They also stated that 59% of people survive for 5 years and 38% survive for 10 years.

The American Cancer Society (ACS) lists breast cancer survival rates for local, regional, or distant tumors. These estimates are not specific to LABC but could be a useful comparison:

  • 99% for breast cancer that has not spread
  • 86% for breast cancer that spreads to local tissues or lymph nodes
  • 28% for breast cancer that spreads to distant tissues or organs
  • 90% across all stages

The only way to definitively diagnose breast cancer is through a biopsy.

There are several other tests that may help with making a diagnosis. Doctors will review the person’s medical history, family history, and any symptoms. They may also recommend one or more of the following:

In metastatic breast cancer, the cancerous cells have spread to other tissue or organs around the body. Some of the most common sites include the bones, lungs, liver, and brain. But LABC is where the tumor has not spread beyond the local breast tissue, including the soft tissue of the chest wall and local lymph nodes.

Metastatic breast cancer can spread to various areas and cause a range of symptoms, such as bone pain, shortness of breath, and severe headaches. But LABC symptoms only affect the breast region.

The ACS suggests that women between the ages of 45–54 years get a mammogram every year. But some people with a higher risk for breast cancer may require earlier tests, such as those with a family history of the disease.

The ACS also notes that women between the ages of 40–44 years should have the option to begin screening with a mammogram every year should they wish to.

Anyone who discovers a lump or experiences symptoms similar to those of breast cancer should talk with their doctor as soon as possible.

People undergoing treatment should also talk with their doctor about their experience and side effects. A doctor can suggest additional medications to help with side effects.

Receiving a diagnosis of LABC or another form of breast cancer can be difficult. There is a wide range of resources for people with breast cancer to find emotional or financial support.

For example, CancerCare offers online resources and connections to support groups, social workers, and financial assistants through its website. Some potential services include:

  • financial assistance programs
  • emotional and practical counseling by calling 800‑813‑HOPE (4673) or emailing info@cancercare.org
  • case management
  • support groups
  • community outreach programs

The following steps can be helpful for self-care and coping:

  • making an effort to look and feel as good as possible
  • talking about emotions with friends, caregivers, or others
  • being specific with others about what type of support is necessary
  • talking about needs for physical closeness with a spouse or significant other
  • allowing others to provide care
  • discussing any concerns with their nurse, doctor, or other members of the care team
  • learning more about breast cancer

LABC is a large, advanced tumor that develops in the breast without spreading beyond the breast tissue or local lymph nodes. It can be difficult to treat and requires aggressive treatment. The survival rate for LABC can vary depending on factors including tumor size and severity.

A person should talk with their doctor about the best treatment options for them, and seek emotional, financial, or other necessary forms of support.