News Staging

Stages of Breast Cancer and Disease Progression


NOTE: Although lots of this info continues to be valid, The American Joint Committee on Most cancers (AJCC) has lately up to date their classifications for staging breast tumors.

We can be updating all our articles on staging within the close to future. Within the meantime, please click HERE for a quick abstract of the main modifications in January 2018.

If a breast biopsy confirms that breast most cancers is certainly the analysis, the staging process begins.

stages of breast cancer

The levels of breast most cancers are actually the ‘extent‘ of the breast cancer.  So, with a view to select and start one of the best remedy it’s essential to ‘stage’ the breast cancer.  The staging course of exhibits the progression of the breast most cancers.

Breast cancer progresses in comparatively predictable and constant methods, so it is potential to categorize  breast most cancers when it comes to  “levels”.

There are principally 5 levels of breast most cancers, with some subcategories (despite the fact that the levels range from ‘zero’ to ‘4’).

Talking Moose

Talking Moose

Hey Doc, why are you displaying a picture that no one can perceive?

Dr. HallsDr. Halls

I can’t keep in mind. But the small round darker circles, are the clusters of most cancers cells inside breast ducts.


Breast cancer progression tends to be constant and predictable

There are numerous ways that breast most cancers can develop but more often than not it starts in the breast ducts.

Whereas a most cancers continues to be confined to the breast ducts, specialists seek advice from it as a ductal carcinoma in situ, or DCIS. The good news is that if breast screening detects a cancer at this in-situ stage, the prospect of survival is close to 100%.

Because the cancer strikes into the breast duct wall and eventually begins to effect the encompassing breast tissue, specialists name it  infiltrative or invasive breast cancer.

If remedy does not occur, breast cancer will often unfold to other areas of the body (metastasize).  Very often the first area that a cancer  often spreads to is the lymph nodes in the underam space (the axilla).

As soon as the cancer enters the lymphatic system, it may well and often does spread to different areas of the body. Typically that is referred to as ‘distant metastasis’.

Not all breast cancers unfold first to the axillary lymph nodes and then to the rest of the physique. If the breast tumor happens close to the nipple, the cancer might spread first to the ‘inner mammary nodes’ beneath the sternum. And in some instances the breast most cancers can spread by way of the bloodstream without involving the lymphatic system.

Talking Moose

Talking Moose

Wow, the phrases went from delicate DCIS to spreading most cancers to the physique, in just some paragraphs.


No kidding. Make the sensation of impending catastrophe go away.

Dr. HallsDr. Halls

You’re proper in fact. Plopping down details onto a web page, the matter-of-fact-ness will get uncontrolled. Sorry about that.

Dr. HallsDr. Halls

Lets pause, imagine a superb place and loosen up, because that is really treatable and even curable.


What investigations are essential for Staging Breast Cancer?

Breast cancer staging virtually all the time includes a bone scan, as breast cancer is very susceptible to metastasize to the bones.

During this check, medics inject a small amount of a radioactive substance into the blood stream, where it will definitely collects in the bones. A radiation scanner is then capable of detect accumulations of tracer substance in the bones.

Dr. HallsDr. Halls

Nuclear Drugs bone scans are awesome. So correct.  Furthermore, in the event that they do nt show any scorching spots of bone metastasis, then the probabilities of remedy will increase dramatically.

Talking Moose

Talking Moose

…and most patients bones are normal, so this is good news.


If a breast cancer spreads past the breast, 25% of the time it goes into bones first.


Beware the 25% statistic. It doesn’t mean 25% of people have metastatic bone disease.


Where does Breast Most cancers spread to?

Breast most cancers cells appear to want to settle into:-

  • lengthy bones within the arms and legs
  • ribs
  • backbone
  • pelvis
  • skull

With an ‘osteolytic‘ metastasis, the cancer type of ‘eats away’ on the bone, creating ‘holes’.

With an ‘osteoblastic‘ bone metastasis, the bone mineral density truly increases, but this could trigger the bones to fracture extra simply. This requires a bit of more rationalization. Breast most cancers metastases are typically lytic when they are untreated, and then they grow to be densely sclerotic as they respond to remedy.

Even if no remedy is given yet, an osteoblastic metastasis from breast most cancers usually signifies that the individuals personal physique is making an attempt to struggle the most cancers with some success.

A CT scan may additionally be used to examine for metastasis to the the lungs or liver. A CT scan is actually an X-ray linked to a pc. The breast cancer physician injects a distinction dye agent into the blood stream and this makes any cancer cells within the liver and chest simpler to see.

About those lymph nodes.

A surgeon will often take a lymph node biopsy to determine if the breast cancer has unfold to the axillary lymph nodes. This is not all the time needed, nevertheless. A lymph node biopsy is just not often crucial for DCIS.  Nevertheless,  for invasive breast most cancers, sure, they do have to examine the lymph nodes.

Typically, docs will perform a ‘sentinel node biopsy“, relatively than a full lymph node excisional biopsy if the considerations about cancer spread are minimal. Most cancers cells have a tendency to seem first in the sentinel node before spreading to the other nodes, or other areas of the physique.


What is a ‘main’ tumor?

The ‘main’ tumor refers back to the unique breast tumor.   So, any metastases are both ‘secondary’ tumors, or just ‘metastatic breast most cancers’.

Word, when breast most cancers spreads to the bones, it isn’t ‘bone most cancers’, it’s  metastatic breast cancer in the bones.

“Metastatic” describes a breast most cancers that has already spread to distant areas and organs of the body. A metastatic cancer is probably the most superior ‘stage’ of breast cancer.  Moreover,  the most typical sites for the breast most cancers to metastasize to are the:-

As soon as breast most cancers is at this most superior metastatic (systemic) stage, the chances of utterly curing the breast cancer are fairly low.  (See our publish on survival rates for Stage IV Breast Cancer).

The remedy of metastatic breast cancer, after an inexpensive effort, will typically concentrate on the standard of life and relieving symptoms somewhat than a remedy.

Typical levels of breast most cancers progression: zero by means of IV

As mentioned, there are 5 primary levels of breast most cancers with a few sub-categories.

Stage zero

This can be a little bit of an unclear term which specialists use to explain the development of abnormal cells that aren’t yet invasive breast cancer. Indeed physicians contemplate Ductal Carcinoma in situ, or DCIS,  stage zero breast cancer.

stage zero breast carcinoma dcis

Right here the malignant most cancers cells are current within the lining of the breast duct, but have not but invaded the encompassing breast tissue or spread beyond the duct. Virtually 100% of DCIS is curable, however it clearly, does need remedy.

Dr. HallsDr. Halls

This DCIS image, exhibits too many tiny purple dots (the most cancers cells), however fortunately they’re ALL contained in the light-pink oval walls of ducts. The cells are dividing too quick in ducts.


Early stage breast cancer; Stage 1

Stage 1 breast cancer is an ‘early stage’ breast most cancers. There is a considerable distinction in medical opinion as to what precisely constitutes early–stagebreast cancer.  Additionally, how aggressive the remedy for Stage I breast cancer is another area of debate.

The standard definition of a stage 1 breast tumor is that a specific amount of breast most cancers cells  invade tissues and buildings past the duct lining.   Nevertheless, no cancer cells have unfold beyond the breast.

Moreover, the tumor measurement is lower than 2 cm in diameter. If  physicians can detect and treat the breast most cancers earlier than it grows past 2cm, the prognosis could be very excellent.


Once they say ‘prognosis is sweet’, does that imply curable?

Dr. HallsDr. Halls

Sure, a lot of people with stage 1 cancer are cured.


The typical age of analysis of a stage 1 breast tumor is about 52 years previous. In over 90% of instances, remedy tends to involve breast conservation surgery,  followed by radiation remedy.


Surgery that keeps your breast, slender scar-line, and beauty re-adjustments provided.

Dr. HallsDr. Halls

You don’t realize it but, however radiation remedy is straightforward, and awesomely efficient.


Most stage 1 breast cancers require lymph node dissection to verify for breast cancer unfold, often around 18 nodes are sampled.


Did you simply attempt to gloss-over the lymph node surgery?

Dr. HallsDr. Halls

By chance. Let me add some links, to complement the topic.


I’ve a new publish on imaging the axilla. Also, there is a publish displaying micrometastases in lymph nodes. Some good advice about  arm symptoms and lymphedema swelling after armpit surgery. We also have an amazing submit on the surgeon’s position in breast most cancers. Right here is an exterior hyperlink to  lymph node dissection surgery.

Dr. HallsDr. Halls

Seems to be like, after 2012, ladies with stage 1 don’t need full node dissections anymore. Yay.

Talking Moose

Talking Moose

Some radiation to the armpit area is given, much nicer.


Probability of stage 1 cancer recurrence or spreading.

Studies estimate the local recurrence fee of stage I breast tumors to be about three%.   The speed of distant recurrence is about eight%.

Fortunately, round 72% of girls with stage one breast most cancers,  correctly treated, may have no recurrence of breast cancer over 15 years.  Furthermore, the estimate for the overall survival fee after 15 years is a  little above that, at around 74%.

These statistics are a bit previous so take a look at our brand new publish on Breast Most cancers Survival Charges in response to Stage

Stage II Breast Most cancers

There are principally 4 sub-categories of breast cancer inside the class of stage II.   Breast tumors in the Stage II classification are:

  • A breast tumor that’s 2cm in diameter or less.  BUT the cancer cells have already unfold to the lymph nodes.
  • OR a breast tumor that’s bigger than 5 cm however has not but spread to the lymph nodes.
  • OR breast tumors in between 2 cm and 5 cm in diameter  -whether there’s proof of spread to the lymph nodes or not.

There are literally quite quite a few specific subcategories and letters and numbers to point a extra precise description of the breast most cancers at Stage II.   (If you need to see more particulars on the staging of breast most cancers go to our model new submit HERE).

In abstract, a stage II breast cancer is of intermediate measurement and threatening to unfold. Certainly, staging for stage II breast cancers requires a radical investigation of potential metastases.


I’m not enthusiastic about stage 2 sub-categories. I’m thinking about survival possibilities.


Survival Rates for Stage II Breast Most cancers

The typical survival fee for stage II breast cancers is about 93% after five years and about 75% after 10 years. The rate of native recurrence is about 16% for stage II breast tumors.  Furthermore only about 16% of stage II breast cancers either have or will develop lymph node metastasis.

See also our new up-to-date survival rates by stage OR our basic survival rates for breast most cancers

A baseline bone scan is unlikely to detect bone metastasis with stage 2 tumors, however they’re often essential simply to make certain.

Remedy for Stage II Breast Most cancers

Incidently, in around 80% of instances, breast conservation remedy is the remedy of selection for stage II breast tumors.

Studies show that applicable adjuvant remedy will increase the general survival fee of stage II breast cancers.  Certainly, all patients with stage II breast most cancers ought to think about for adjuvant therapy with their breast cancer group.  This is very true when there are indications of the beginnings of systemic disease (constructive lymph nodes).

So, research show that adjuvant chemotherapy will increase the disease-free interval and general survival by about 24% and 15% respectively for ladies with node-positive stage II breast most cancers.


Chemotherapy. I was on the look-out for that phrase!


Those medicines are approach higher nowadays. Not the fearful stories you heard as a toddler.

Dr. HallsDr. Halls

Thanks Holly. The oncologists have a very good system labored out, for giving the focused drugs that the most cancers cells are most vulnerable too, and in a method that in all probability has minimal or no unwanted effects.


Stage III breast cancer; regionally advanced

A stage 3 breast most cancers is usually referred to as a ‘regionally advanced’ breast cancer.

Stage III breast cancers are actually a heterogeneous group of cancers, but account for about 7% of all preliminary breast cancer analysis.

Principally, a stage III breast most cancers is one in which there is:-

  • a main tumor of higher than 5cm in diameter with no apparent metastasis
  • OR the tumor is between 2cm and 5cm in diameter with evidence of somewhat vital metastasis.

One other approach of taking a look at it’s that stage III breast cancers both have a large but ‘operable’ (surgically curable) breast tumor (stage IIIa).  Or typically Stage III breast cancers present with a medium measurement breast tumor (2cm to 5cm) which is harder to completely deal with and remedy with surgical procedure alone.

Remedy of Stage III Breast Cancers

Typically giant breast cancers invade into muscular tissues or connect to main arteries, veins or nerve trunks, which makes them unimaginable to surgically take away “utterly”.

So, for these patients, the remedy often starts with radiation or chemo to attempt to shrink it first, earlier than surgical procedure.  However even a large (5cm) tumor that has not hooked up itself onto muscle can, typically, be utterly removed.  There isn’t any direct relationship between tumor measurement and whether or not it might be handled surgically or not.

Obviously, Stage 3 breast cancers that surgeons can utterly remove do are likely to have a significantly better prognosis than inoperable stage 3 breast cancers. Nevertheless, some breast tumors, notably these which are ER constructive, reply very properly to chemotherapy.   So properly, in reality,  that they actually ‘downstage’.

So, it is troublesome to predict the overall prognosis for stage three breast cancer, as it is going to differ from individual to individual. If the response to chemotherapy is favorable, the overall survival fee is round 72%.

Lymph Node Involvement in Stage III Breast Cancers

So, there’s still just a little little bit of ambiguity relating to stage III breast cancers. A stage IIIA breast cancer is one through which the tumor is no more than 5 cms throughout, but with constructive metastasis to the axillary lymph nodes.  The most cancers cells might spread to the lymph nodes behind the sternum. (‘inner mammary lymph nodes).

Just a little bit concerning the Inner Mammary Lymph Nodes

The interior mammary nodes are situated behind the ribs. Ribs are made from bone, but within the front they turn into cartilage just earlier than they be a part of the sternum.

So, every rib attaches to the sternum with cartilage and each of these cartilage bars are round 5 cm lengthy.  Thus, it can be very troublesome to take away an inner mammary node. There’s an inner mammary artery and vein together with the lymph ducts and different veins.

If you have to take away an inner mammary node, the cartilage in entrance  must be reduce out. Cartilage, unfortunately, does not develop again or heal and this can depart a niche which makes the rib primarily ineffective.

So, it is a judgement name by the surgeon as as to if or not one ought to try a surgical strategy to remove inner mammary nodes with constructive metastasis.  It’s because surgical removing is simply too damaging to the perform of the chest and ribs.

Nevertheless, electron beam radiotherapy is an effective remedy for inner mammary nodes.   The electrons penetrate to concerning the right depth to succeed in thes inner mammary nodes.

Remedy of Stage IIIa Breast Most cancers

The remedy for ladies with stage IIIa breast cancers tends to be a modified radical mastectomy and locoregional radiotherapy. (Locoregional signifies that the medic goals the radiation beam on the location of the tumor and the encompassing area.)

lymph node breast cancer metastasis

Typically, chemotherapy is given as adjuvant therapy, but in some instances pre-operative chemotherapy can also be advisable. Breast conservation is usually not a superb choice with stage IIIa breast cancers.

Levels of Breast Most cancers:  Stage IIIb

A stage IIIb breast cancer is one during which the tumor could also be of any measurement however it has grown into the chest wall or the pores and skin of the breast.  A stage IIIb designation also applies if there’s proof of either

  • axillary lymph node metastasis
  • inner mammary node metastasis

presenting in such a approach as to recommend that complete surgical removing is just not potential.

There is a distinctive sort of breast cancer,  ‘inflammatory breast most cancers‘, that causes the breast to seem purple and swollen. It’s because the most cancers cells ‘block’ a number of the lymphatic vessels. Inflammatory breast cancers are likely to have a poorer prognosis, and are usually stage IIIb a minimum of.

Levels of Breast Cancer: Stage IIIc

Stage IIIc breast cancers principally contain tumors of any measurement with vital metastases to:-

  • the lymph nodes behind the sternum
  • lymph nodes underneath the arm
  • the lymph nodes above or under the collarbone

The extent and depth of lymph node involvement makes these sufferers unsuitable candidates for surgical remedy as a main mode of remedy.  Chemotherapy is the remedy of selection for ladies with stage IIIb and IIIc breast cancers.

Nevertheless, as much as 70% of sufferers with stage III breast cancers who’ve chemotherapy stay alive and illness free after 7 years.


Finally – some excellent news.


Advanced or metastatic breast most cancers: stage IV

Stage IV breast cancers indicate the presence of distant metastasis to other elements of the physique, such as the liver or bones.

About 5% of girls, in 2017 have a stage IV breast most cancers at the time of preliminary analysis.

The long run survival fee for stage IV breast cancer tends to be low, but is enhancing on a regular basis.  In 2012 the Nationwide Most cancers Institute (SEER) statistics show the 5 yr survival fee for Stage IV breast cancer to be round 22%.

Nevertheless, a newer research exhibits that 37% of girls survive for 3 years after a Stage IV breast cancer analysis.

Also it is very important keep in mind that each case is individual and there’s no telling  actual survival rates for any of the levels of breast most cancers.

Dilemmas of Stage IV Breast Cancer

Indeed, there are numerous critical and personal questions involving stage IV breast cancer.  So, general survival is much less probably, and positive aspects from intensive breast cancer remedy are sadly moderately modest.  A critical consideration is, subsequently, ‘high quality of life’ through the course of remedy.

metastasis of breast cancer to the bones

These selections are typically a dynamic process, based mostly on particular person instances, between patients and physicians.  Respect must be given to the expectations for remedy, the status of the disease and the affected person wishes.

Stage IV breast cancers may be ‘recurrences’ following initial remedy

As much as 5% of intitial breast cancer diagnoses are of probably the most superior or metastatic stage.  Nevertheless, this quantity has considerably decreased with the implementation of widespread breast most cancers screening packages.

Metastatic breast most cancers can look like a speedy deterioration of a disease that has been present for a while undetected.

But metastatic (Stage IV) breast most cancers may also be the results of a recurrence of breast most cancers after a successful initial remedy. Typically the phrases ‘local’ and ‘regional’ recurrence point out a return of breast cancer to the unique tumor website ( after surgical procedure) or elsewhere within the breast or contralateral breast.

If the most cancers returns in different areas of the physique it is a ‘distant’ metastasis or distant recurrence.

For extra detail on Stage IV survival rates, recurrence rates and remedy please see our new publish HERE.

Investigations for Levels of Breast Cancer

The following procedures may be essential to verify for metastasis:-

  • bone scan
  • chest Xray
  • CAT scan
  • MRI scan
  • blood checks

So, after a breast cancer analysis, whereas normally the outlook is favorable (in comparison to other forms of most cancers), it ought to actually be thought-about a ‘persistent’ situation.

However the development shouldn’t be going to be the identical for everyone, even for patients with comparable levels of breast cancer presentation.  It’s SO necessary to keep in mind that each case is particular person.  Certainly breast most cancers has been recognized to return even 20 years after a mastecomy, while in others, the progression and systemic improvement of illness could also be speedy.

Are you considering having NO remedy?

Nervousness, worry, panic, anger and unhappiness are all widespread feelings following a breast cancer analysis.  In case you are in the midst of a mixture of those feelings, in the present day isn’t a very good day to make necessary selections.

Right here is my fast ‘think about a approach this all gets higher’ line of reasoning, that will help you. Firstly, remedies are so efficient nowadays and really nicely organized.  Most cancers research and treatments are enhancing all the time and the people who deal with breast cancer are experienced specialists.

Give the staff some trust and time to elucidate things properly and accept the remedies. Do one step at a time, someday at a time, and you may be amazed on the outcomes.

Add onto that the following self-help strategies:-

  • plenty of sleep
  • good,healthy recent food
  • every day exercise
  • socializing with individuals
  • accepting help from friends and family
  • Be a part of some help groups and join with others dealing with the same challenges

Every of these is scientifically proven to enhance your personal physique’s immunologic struggle towards the cancer.


  • Iturbe J. Leone, JP,  Zwenger AO, Lacava JA, Vallejo CT, Scuteri RR, Cabaleiro SP, Castro J, Leone, BA. (2008) Remedy of stage I breast cancer (T1N0M0): An extended-term follow-up research. J Clin Oncol (2008) 26:
  • Shenkier T, Weir L, Levine M, Olivotto I, Whelan T, Reyno L. (2004) Steering Committee on Medical Apply Tips for the Care and Remedy of Breast Cancer. Medical follow tips for the care and remedy of breast cancer: 15. Remedy for ladies with stage III or regionally advanced breast cancer. CMAJ.  170(6):983-94.

More references for this publish are on this page.

Again to our breast cancer staging index. . There’s also our model new homepage or attempt our posts on Incidence and Mortality Rates.


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