Breast Cancer Stages

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Once a person is determined to have a malignant tumor or the diagnosis of breast cancer, the healthcare team will determine staging to communicate how far the disease has progressed.

Why is the breast cancer stage important?

Determining the stage helps determine the best way to contain and eliminate the breast cancer.

How is the stage determined?

The stage is based on the following factors:

  • The size of the tumor within the breast
  • The number of lymph nodes affected
  • The nearest lymph nodes are found under the arm, known as the axillary area
  • Signs indicating whether or not the breast cancer cancer has invaded other organs within the body

If breast cancer has spread, or metastasized, evidence be may found in the bones, liver, lungs, or brain.

Stage 0 & 1

Stage 0 & 1

These lowest numbered stages represent the earliest detection of breast cancer development. At Stage 0 and 1, the cancer cells are confined to a very limited area.

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Stage 2 (II) and Stage 2A (IIA)

Stage 2 (II) and Stage 2A (IIA)

Stage 2 breast cancer is still in the earlier stages, but there is evidence that the cancer has begun to grow or spread.  It is still contained to the breast area and is generally very effectively treated.

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Stage 3 (III) A, B, and C

Stage 3 (III) A, B, and C

Stage 3 breast cancer is considered advanced cancer with evidence of cancer invading surrounding tissues near the breast.

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Stage 4 (IV)

Stage 4 (IV)

Stage 4 breast cancer indicates that cancer has spread beyond the breast to other areas of the body.

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Current Standards of Care

Should patients insist on comprehensive scans, regardless of the stage?
It may not be necessary, but always seek the advice of your physician. There was a time when everyone diagnosed with breast cancer would routinely have a series of scans and tests to rule out the presence of cancer in other organs.However, this standard was discontinued in 1998 by the National Comprehensive Cancer Network.

The NCCN put forth new national standards for diagnosis and treatment of each type of breast cancer. Instead of undergoing complete “staging work-ups” as they are called, such extensive testing is now often unnecessary, in part due to earlier detection.

The most extensive testing is now commonly reserved for patients with locally advanced disease  (very large tumors with cancer affecting several lymph nodes, for example) or for patients whose long-term physical symptoms may imply that breast cancer has spread elsewhere.

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