The stage of breast cancer is determined by the characteristics of cancer, such as its size and whether or not it has hormone receptors. It helps you and your doctor to:

  • understand your prognosis, the likely outcome of the disease
  • decide the best treatment options for you
  • decide if certain clinical trials may be a good option for you

The stage of breast cancer is usually expressed as a number on a scale from 0 to IV – stage 0 describing non-invasive cancers that remain in their original location and stage IV describing invasive cancers that remain are spread outside the breast to other parts of the body.
Knowing the stage helps the doctor decide which type of treatment is best and can help predict a patient’s prognosis, which is the chance of recovery. There are non-identical stage descriptions for different types of cancer.
Stage 1 breast cancer
It is divided into two groups:

  • stage 1A
  • stage 1B

Stage 1A means the cancer is 2 cm or less and has not spread outside the breast.
Step 1B can mean:
No cancer is seen in the breast, but some cancer cells are found in the lymph nodes under the arm (called micrometastases) or
Breast cancer is 2 cm or less and some cancer cells are found in the lymph nodes under the arm (micrometastasis).

Stage 2 breast cancer

It is divided into two groups:

  • stage 2A
  • stage 2B

Step 2A can mean:
Cancer is not visible in the breast, but cancer is found in one to three lymph nodes under the arm or near the breastbone or
Breast cancer is 2 cm or less and the cancer is found in one to three lymph nodes under the arm or near the breastbone. or
Breast cancer is greater than 2 cm but less than 5 cm and no cancer is found in the lymph nodes under the arm.
Step 2B can mean:
Breast cancer is greater than 2 cm but less than 5 cm. The cancer is found in one to three lymph nodes under the arm or near the sternum or
Breast cancer is larger than 5 cm and no cancer is found in the lymph nodes under the arm.
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Stage 3 breast cancer

It is divided into three groups:

  • stage 3A
  • stage 3B
  • stage 3C

Step 3A can mean:
No cancer is seen in the breast, but the cancer is found in four to nine lymph nodes under the arm or near the breastbone or
Breast cancer is up to 5 cm long and the cancer is found in four to nine lymph nodes under the arm or near the breastbone or
Breast cancer is larger than 5 cm, and the cancer is found in up to three lymph nodes under the arm or near the breastbone.
Stage 3B means that breast cancer can be any size and has spread to the skin of the breast or chest wall. The cancer is found in up to nine lymph nodes under the arm or near the breastbone.
Stage 3C means breast cancer can be any size, can spread to the skin of the breast or chest wall, and the cancer is found in 10 or more lymph nodes under the arm or near the sternum, or at nodes above or below the collarbone.

Stage 4 breast cancer

Stage 4 breast cancer, also called secondary breast cancer. It can be any size, the lymph nodes may or may not carry cancer, but the cancer has spread (metastasized) to other parts of the body, like distant lymph nodes, lungs, bones, liver, or brain.
If your cancer is in the lymph nodes under the arm but nowhere else in the body, you do not have stage 4 breast cancer.
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5. TNM cancer staging system

Some doctors use the TNM staging system. It is a rating system used to describe:

  • the size of the cancer (T means tumor)
  • the number of lymph nodes affected (N means lymph nodes)
  • if cancer has spread to other parts of the body (M stands for metastases)

The individual scores are then grouped together to obtain an overall step.

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