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4-Stages of Breast Cancer

What are the 4 Stages of Breast Cancer?

Doctors divide breast cancer into four number stages.  ‘Staging’ takes into account various factors, such as the size of the tumor, whether cancer cells have spread into the nearby lymph glands (lymph nodes), whether the cancer cells have receptors for hormones or other proteins, and whether the tumor has spread to any other part of the body.  The word tumor means either a breast lump or the area of cancer cells found on a scan or mammogram.

The tests and scans you have when diagnosing your cancer give some information about the stage.  The stage is important because it helps your breast cancer specialist to decide on the best treatment for you.  Doctors also treat breast cancer according to its grade.  They usually make decisions about treatment for breast cancer according to the TNM stage and the grade of the cancer.  Doctors also sometimes use a formula called the Nottingham Prognostic Indicator (NPI) to give some idea of how well treatment may work for an individual person with breast cancer.

Early Stage 0 Breast Cancer

  • The disease is localized to the breast with no evidence of spread to the lymph nodes (carcinoma in situ).

Stage 1 Breast Cancer

  • The tumour is no more than 2 centimetres (cm) across (T1)
  • There are no cancer cells in the lymph nodes in the armpit
  • The cancer has not spread anywhere else

Stage 2 Breast Cancer

This is divided into two groups

Stage 2A means

  • The tumour is less than 2 cm, the lymph nodes under the arm contain cancer but are not stuck to each other and the cancer has not spread or
  • The tumour is less than 5 cm, there are no cancer cells in the lymph nodes in the armpit and the cancer has not spread or
  • Although no tumour is seen in the breast, the lymph nodes under the arm contain cancer cells but are not stuck together or to other structures, and there is no sign of spread to other parts of the body

Stage 2B means

  • The tumour is less than 5 cm and the lymph nodes under the arm contain cancer cells but are not stuck to each other, and the cancer has not spread or
  • The tumour is bigger than 5 cm across, there are no cancer cells in the lymph nodes in the armpit and the cancer has not spread

Stage 3 Breast Cancer

Stage 3 Breast Cancer is divided into 3 groups

Stage 3A means

  • Although no tumour is seen in the breast, the lymph nodes under the arm contain cancer cells and are stuck together or to other structures, but there is no sign of cancer spread or
  • The tumour is 5 cm or less, the lymph nodes in the armpit contain cancer cells and are stuck to each other, but the cancer has not spread elsewhere or
  • The tumour is more than 5 cm, the lymph nodes in the armpit contain cancer cells and may be stuck together, but there is no further spread

Stage 3B means

  • The tumour is fixed to the skin or chest wall, the lymph nodes may or may not contain cancer cells, but there is no further spread

Stage 3C means

  • The tumour can be any size and has spread to lymph nodes in the armpit and under the breast bone, or to nodes above or below the collarbone, but there is no further spread

Stage 4 Breast Cancer

In stage 4 Breast Cancer

  • The tumour can be any size
  • The lymph nodes may or may not contain cancer cells
  • The cancer has spread, metastasised) to other parts of the body such as the lungs, liver or bones

If you have cancer cells in the breast and the lymph nodes in your armpit on the same side of the body, you do not have stage 4 breast cancer.  Stage 4 only applies if the cancer has spread to other body organs.