Stage 3 (III) A, B, And C Breast Cancer Overview
What Does It Mean To Have Stage 3 Breast Cancer?
Stage 3 cancer means the breast cancer has extended to beyond the immediate region of the tumor and may have invaded nearby lymph nodes and muscles, but has not spread to distant organs. Although this stage is considered to be advanced, there are a growing number of effective treatment options.
This stage is divided into three groups: Stage 3A, Stage 3B, and Stage 3C. The difference is determined by the size of the tumor and whether cancer has spread to the lymph nodes and surrounding tissue.
Stage 3A Breast Cancer Means One Of The Following Descriptions Applies.
No actual tumor is associated with the cancerous cells or the tumor may be any size, AND the nearby lymph nodes (4 or more nodes with as many as 9 affected) contain cancer.
The tumor is larger than the approximate size of a small lime (more than 5 centimeters), AND small clusters of breast cancer cells are found in the lymph nodes between the approximate size of a pinprick and the width of a grain of rice. (.2mm – 2.0mm.)
The tumor is larger than the approximate size of a small lime (over 5 centimeters), AND the cancer has spread to 1, 2, or 3 lymph nodes under the arm or near the breastbone.
Stage 3B Breast Cancer Means The Following Descriptions Apply.
The tumor may be any size, AND cancer has invaded the chest wall or breast skin with evidence of swelling, inflammation, or ulcers (such as with cases like inflammatory breast cancer). The breast cancer may also have invaded up to 9 nearby lymph nodes.
Stage 3C Breast Cancer Means One Of The Following Descriptions Applies.
No actual tumor is found in the breast (such as with cases like inflammatory breast cancer) or the tumor may be any size, AND cancer may have invaded the chest wall or breast skin with evidence of swelling, inflammation, or ulcers and cancer has also invaded 10 or more lymph nodes under the arm
No actual tumor is found in the breast or the tumor may be any size AND lymph nodes extending to the collarbone area are found to contain cancer.
No actual tumor is found in the breast or the tumor may be any size AND lymph nodes under the arm and near the breastbone are found to contain cancer.
“Inoperable” Breast Cancer Is Often Still Treatable.
Stage 3C breast cancer is divided into operable and inoperable stage 3C breast cancer. However, the term “inoperable” is not the same as “untreatable.”
If your physician uses the word “inoperable,” it may simply mean that a simple surgery at this time would not be enough to get rid of all the breast cancer that is within the breast and the tissue around the breast. There must be healthy tissue at all of the margins of the breast when it is removed. Keep in mind that the breast tissue goes beyond the breast mound – it goes up to the clavicle and down to a few inches below the breast mound. There must also be tissue to close the chest wound after the surgery is performed.
Another treatment method may be used first to shrink the breast cancer as much as possible before surgery is considered.
What Should A Person With Stage 3 Breast Cancer Expect From Treatment?
Stage 3 treatment options vary widely and may consist of mastectomy and radiation for local treatment and hormone therapy or chemotherapy for systemic treatment. Nearly every person with a Stage 3 diagnosis will do best with a combination of two or more treatments.
Chemotherapy is always given first with the goal to shrink the breast cancer to be smaller within the breast and within the lymph nodes that are affected. This is known as neoadjuvant chemotherapy.
Other possible treatments include biologic targeted therapy and immunotherapy. There may be various clinical trial options for interested patients with Stage 3 breast cancer.
Medically reviewed June 2023