This content is for informational purposes only and is not intended to provide medical advice or to treat,
diagnose, cure or prevent any disease or condition. Always seek the advice of your healthcare provider.
Content Provided by Women’s Choice Award ®
Stages of Breast Cancer
The stage of the cancer is based on four factors:
- The size of the cancer
- If the lymph nodes are affected with cancer, and if so, the number of lymph nodes affected
- If the cancer is invasive or non-invasive
- If the cancer has metastasized, or spread outside of the breast to other parts of the body
The stages of breast cancer are expressed using a scale of 0 to IV. Stage 0 cancers are noninvasive, which means they are contained to one area of the breast and have not spread to any surrounding areas. Stage IV describes cancers that are the most invasive, spreading to other parts of the body, beyond the breast.
What are Lymph Nodes?
Lymph nodes are small, bean-shaped glands that serve as a filter. They contain immune cells, which help fight infection and germs, and remove harmful substances from the body. In the breast region (armpit), these nodes are more specifically called axillary lymph nodes. The ‘sentinel lymph node’ refers to the first lymph node(s) to which cancer cells will be most likely to spread.
Also known as ‘carcinoma in situ’. The word ‘carcinoma’ stands for cancer, and ‘in situ’ stands for ‘in the original place’. There are 3 types of stage 0 cancers:
- Ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS): a non-invasive cancer, in which abnormal cells are found in the lining of the breast duct and have not spread outside of the duct to nearby breast tissue.
- Lobular carcinoma in situ (LCIS): non-invasive, abnormal cells are found only in the lobules of the breast. This is not actually cancer, but could indicate an increased risk for breast cancer.
- Paget disease of the nipple: abnormal cells are found in the nipple region, only.
Describes an invasive cancer that is invading surrounding breast tissue. This stage is divided into Stages IA and IB:
Stage IA: the tumor is 2 cm or smaller, and the cancer has not spread outside the breasts
(lymph nodes are not affected).
Stage IB: breast cancer cells are found in the lymph nodes (between .2mm and 2mm), and either there is a tumor in the breast that is no larger than 2 cm, or there is no tumor in the breast at all.
Describes an invasive cancer that is still restricted to just the breast tissue and/or nearby lymph nodes. This stage is divided into Stages IIA and IIB:
Stage IIA: there is no tumor in the breast or the tumor is less than 2cm, and there is cancer (larger than 2mm) in 1 to 3 lymph nodes; OR there is a tumor between 2cm and 5cm large and cancer hasn’t spread to the lymph nodes.
Stage IIB: the tumor is between 2cm and 5cm and small clusters of breast cancer cells (between .2mm and 2mm) are found in the lymph nodes; OR the tumor is between 2cm and 5cm and the cancer has spread to 1 to 3 lymph nodes; OR the tumor is larger than 5cm and the cancer has not spread to the lymph nodes.
The invasive cancer is more advanced and while it may have spread into surrounding tissue and into the lymph nodes, it has not spread to other organs in the body. This stage is divided into Stages IIIA, IIIB, and IIIC:
Stage IIIA: no tumor is found in the breast, or the tumor can be any size and cancer has spread into 4 to 9 lymph nodes; OR the tumor is larger than 5cm and small clusters of breast cancer cells between .2mm and 2mm are found in the lymph nodes; OR the tumor is larger than 5cm and cancer has spread to 1 to 3 lymph nodes under the arm (axillary lymph nodes) or lymph nodes near the breastbone.
Stage IIIB: the tumor can be any size and the cancer has spread to the chest wall and/or the skin of the breast, causing swelling or an ulcer. The cancer may have also invaded up to 9 axillary lymph nodes or may have spread to lymph nodes near the breastbone. (Note: Cancer that’s spreads to the skin may be inflammatory breast cancer.)
Stage IIIC: no tumor is found in the breast, or the tumor can be any size. The cancer may have spread to the chest wall and/or the skin of the breast, causing swelling or an ulcer. The cancer has spread into: 10 or more axillary lymph nodes, or lymph nodes above or below the collarbone, or axillary lymph nodes and lymph nodes near the breastbone.
The invasive cancer has spread to other organs throughout the body. Most often the cancer spreads to the brain, lungs, liver or bones. This is an advanced cancer that has metastasized.
Your Pathology Report
Information about your breast cancer and is used to determine the best course of treatment for your cancer. Keep all of your reports in one place and take them with you to your doctor appointments (and when getting a second opinion). Having the information on hand will allow your doctors to work with you to create the best treatment plan.
Go to www.BreastCancer.org to download ‘Your Guide to the Breast Cancer Pathology Report’. This will provide an easy-to-understand overview of your results, as well as areas for you to write-in specific results from your own lab tests.
Most importantly, ask as many questions as you need to feel confident in understanding your diagnosis and treatment plan when discussing your condition with your