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Breast Cancer Stages

Stages of Breast Cancer

What is staging of breast cancer?

When breast cancer is diagnosed, tests will be done to find out if the cancer has spread from the breast to other parts of the body. This is called staging, and is an important step toward planning a treatment program.

What are the different stages of breast cancer?

As defined by the National Cancer Institute, stages of breast cancer are:

Carcinoma in situ There are two types of breast cancer in situ. They are early cancers and account for about 15 to 20 percent of all breast cancers cases, including:
  • ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS or intraductal carcinoma)
  • lobular carcinoma in situ (LCIS) and may also be called:
    • breast cancer in situ
    • carcinoma in situ
    • stage 0 breast cancer

Patients with this condition have a 25 percent chance of developing breast cancer in either breast in the next 25 years.

Stage I Cancer is no larger than 2 centimeters (about 1 inch) and has not spread outside the breast.
Stage II

Stage II is subdivided into stages IIA and IIB:

  • Stage IIA is defined by either of the following:
    • No tumor is found in the breast, but cancer is found in 1 to 3  axillary lymph nodes.

      or
    • The cancer is no larger than 2 centimeters (about one inch) but has spread to the lymph nodes under the arm (the axillary lymph nodes).

      or
    • The cancer is between 2 and 5 centimeters (from 1 to 2 inches), but has not spread to the lymph nodes under the arm.
  • Stage IIB is defined by either of the following:
    • The cancer is between 2 and 5 centimeters (1 to 2 inches) and has spread to the lymph nodes under the arm.

      or
    • The cancer is larger than 5 centimeters (larger than 2 inches), but has not spread to the lymph nodes under the arm.
Stage III Stage III is subdivided into stages IIIA, IIIB, and IIIC.
  • Stage IIIA is defined by either of the following:
    • No tumor is found in the breast, but cancer is found in 4 to 9 axillary lymph nodes that are attached to each other or to other structures.

      or
    • The cancer is smaller than 5 centimeters and has spread to the lymph nodes under the arm, and the lymph nodes are attached to each other or to other structures.

      or
    • The cancer is larger than 5 centimeters and has spread to the lymph nodes under the arm.
  • Stage IIIB is defined by either of the following:
    • The cancer has spread to tissues near the breast (skin or chest wall, including the ribs and the muscles in the chest).

      or
    • The cancer has spread to lymph nodes inside the chest wall along the breast bone or under the arm.
  • Stage IIIC is defined by either of the following:
    • Cancer has spread to lymph nodes under the collarbone and near the neck.

      or
    • Cancer may have spread to lymph nodes in the breast or underarm and to tissues near the breast.
Stage IV This stage is defined by either of the following:
  • The cancer has spread to other organs of the body, most often the bones, lungs, liver, or brain.

    or
  • The tumor has spread to lymph nodes far from the breast.
Inflammatory breast cancer This is a rare type of cancer in which the breast looks as if it is inflamed because of its red appearance and warmth. Skin may show signs of ridges and wheals or it may have a pitted appearance.
Recurrent In this stage, the cancer has come back (recurred) after treatment. It may come back in the breast, in the soft tissues of the chest (the chest wall), or in another part of the body.

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