Staging Tech

Stages of Breast Cancer and Disease Progression



NOTE: Though a number of this info continues to be legitimate, 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 on HERE for a quick abstract of the key modifications in January 2018.

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


Dr. HallsDr. Halls

Docs will need to know the stage, earlier than suggesting a remedy.


What if I’m scared? What occurs if I don’t need treatement?

Talking Moose

Talking Moose

The ‘traditional stuff’ studying about staging comes first, sadly.

Dr. HallsDr. Halls

However I’ll reply questions on the finish about what occurs in case you delay remedy.


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

Breast most cancers progresses in comparatively predictable and constant methods, so it’s attainable 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 vary from ‘zero’ to ‘4’).
stages of breast cancer


Talking Moose

Talking Moose

Hey Doc, why are you displaying an image that no one can perceive?

Dr. HallsDr. Halls

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


Breast most cancers development tends to be constant and predictable

There are numerous ways in which breast most cancers can develop however more often than not it begins within the breast ducts.

Whereas a most cancers continues to be confined to the breast ducts, specialists confer with it as a ductal carcinoma in situ, or DCIS. The excellent news is that if breast screening detects a most cancers at this in-situ stage, the prospect of survival is near 100%.



Almost 100% remedy, with remedy, I assume.


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

If remedy does not happen, breast most cancers will often unfold to different areas of the physique (metastasize).  Fairly often the primary space that a most cancers  often spreads to is the lymph nodes within the underam space (the axilla).

As soon as the most cancers enters the lymphatic system, it will possibly and often does unfold to different areas of the physique. Typically that is referred to as ‘distant metastasis’.

Not all breast cancers unfold first to the axillary lymph nodes after which to the remainder of the physique. If the breast tumor happens close to the nipple, the most cancers might unfold first to the ‘inner mammary nodes’ beneath the sternum. And in some instances the breast most cancers can unfold by way of the bloodstream with out 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, think about a superb place and chill out, as a result of that is actually treatable and even curable.


What investigations are mandatory for Staging Breast Most cancers?

Breast most cancers staging virtually all the time includes a bone scan, as breast most cancers is very vulnerable to metastasize to the bones. Throughout this check, medics inject a small quantity of a radioactive substance into the blood stream, the place it will definitely collects within the bones. A radiation scanner is then capable of detect accumulations of tracer substance within the bones.


Dr. HallsDr. Halls

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

Talking Moose

Talking Moose

…and most sufferers bones are regular, so that is excellent news.


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



Beware the 25% statistic. It doesn’t imply 25% of individuals have metastatic bone illness.


The place does Breast Most cancers unfold to?

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

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

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

With an ‘osteoblastic‘ bone metastasis, the bone mineral density truly will increase, however this could trigger the bones to fracture extra simply. This requires just a little extra rationalization. Breast most cancers metastases are typically lytic when they’re untreated, after which they grow to be densely sclerotic as they reply to remedy.

Even when no remedy is given but, an osteoblastic metastasis from breast most cancers usually signifies that the individuals personal physique is making an attempt to battle 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 most cancers physician injects a distinction dye agent into the blood stream and this makes any most cancers cells within the liver and chest simpler to see.

About these lymph nodes.

A surgeon will often take a lymph node biopsy to find out if the breast most cancers has unfold to the axillary lymph nodes. This isn’t all the time mandatory, nevertheless. A lymph node biopsy isn’t often mandatory for DCIS.  Nevertheless,  for invasive breast most cancers, sure, they do have to examine the lymph nodes.

Typically, docs will carry out a ‘sentinel node biopsy“, quite than a full lymph node excisional biopsy if the considerations about most cancers unfold are minimal. Most cancers cells have a tendency to seem first within the sentinel node earlier than spreading to the opposite nodes, or different areas of the physique.



What’s 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’.

Notice, when breast most cancers spreads to the bones, it isn’t ‘bone most cancers’, it’s  metastatic breast most cancers within the bones.

“Metastatic” describes a breast most cancers that has already unfold to distant areas and organs of the physique. A metastatic most cancers is probably the most superior ‘stage’ of breast most cancers.  Moreover,  the most typical websites 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 most cancers are fairly low.  (See our submit on survival charges for Stage IV Breast Most cancers).

The remedy of metastatic breast most cancers, after an inexpensive effort, will typically give attention to the standard of life and relieving signs relatively than a remedy.

Typical levels of breast most cancers development: zero via IV

As talked about, 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 time period which specialists use to explain the event of irregular cells that aren’t but invasive breast most cancers. Certainly physicians think about Ductal Carcinoma in situ, or DCIS,  stage zero breast most cancers.

Right here the malignant most cancers cells are current within the lining of the breast duct, however haven’t but invaded the encompassing breast tissue or unfold past the duct. Virtually 100% of DCIS is curable, however it clearly, does want remedy.
stage zero breast carcinoma dcis


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 partitions of ducts. The cells are dividing too quick in ducts.


Early stage breast most cancers; Stage 1

Stage 1 breast most cancers is an ‘early stage’ breast most cancers. There’s a appreciable distinction in medical opinion as to what precisely constitutes early stage breast most cancers.  Additionally, how aggressive the remedy for Stage I breast most cancers is one other space of debate.

The usual 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 most cancers cells have unfold past the breast.

Moreover, the tumor measurement is lower than 2 cm in diameter. If  physicians can detect and deal with 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, lots of people with stage 1 most cancers 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 contain breast conservation surgical procedure,  adopted by radiation remedy.



Surgical procedure that retains your breast, slender scar-line, and beauty re-adjustments provided.

Dr. HallsDr. Halls

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


Most stage 1 breast cancers require lymph node dissection to examine for breast most cancers unfold, often round 18 nodes are sampled.



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

Dr. HallsDr. Halls

By accident. Let me add some hyperlinks, to complement the subject.


I’ve a brand new submit on imaging the axilla. Additionally, there’s a submit displaying micrometastases in lymph nodes. Some good recommendation about  arm signs and lymphedema swelling after armpit surgical procedure. We even have an ideal submit on the surgeon’s position in breast most cancers. Right here is an exterior hyperlink to  lymph node dissection surgical procedure.


Dr. HallsDr. Halls

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

Talking Moose

Talking Moose

Some radiation to the armpit space is given, a lot nicer.


Probability of stage 1 most cancers recurrence or spreading.

Research estimate the native 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 handled, may have no recurrence of breast most cancers over 15 years.  Moreover, the estimate for the general survival fee after 15 years is a  little above that, at round 74%.

These statistics are a bit of previous so take a look at our model 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 most cancers inside the class of stage II.   Breast tumors within the Stage II classification are:

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

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

In abstract, a stage II breast most cancers 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 occupied with stage 2 sub-categories. I’m enthusiastic about survival possibilities.


Survival Charges for Stage II Breast Most cancers

The typical survival price for stage II breast cancers is about 93% after 5 years and about 75% after 10 years. The speed of native recurrence is about 16% for stage II breast tumors.  Moreover solely about 16% of stage II breast cancers both have or will develop lymph node metastasis.

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

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

Remedy for Stage II Breast Most cancers

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

Research present that applicable adjuvant remedy will increase the general survival fee of stage II breast cancers.  Certainly, all sufferers with stage II breast most cancers ought to think about for adjuvant remedy with their breast most cancers workforce.  That is very true when there are indications of the beginnings of systemic illness (constructive lymph nodes).

So, research present 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 used to be on the look-out for that phrase!


These medicines are means higher these days. Not the fearful tales you heard as a toddler.

Dr. HallsDr. Halls

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


Stage III breast most cancers; regionally superior

A stage three breast most cancers is usually known as a ‘regionally superior’ breast most cancers.

Stage III breast cancers are literally a heterogeneous group of cancers, however account for about 7% of all preliminary breast most cancers analysis.

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

  • a main tumor of higher than 5cm in diameter with no obvious metastasis
  • OR the tumor is between 2cm and 5cm in diameter with proof of slightly vital metastasis.

One other means of taking a look at it’s that stage III breast cancers both have a big however ‘operable’ (surgically curable) breast tumor (stage IIIa).  Or typically Stage III breast cancers current 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
unattainable to surgically take away “utterly”.

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

Clearly, Stage three breast cancers that surgeons can utterly take away do are likely to have a considerably higher prognosis than inoperable stage three breast cancers. Nevertheless, some breast tumors, notably these which are ER constructive, reply very nicely to chemotherapy.   So properly, actually,  that they really ‘downstage’.

So, it’s troublesome to foretell the general prognosis for stage three breast most cancers, as it is going to differ from particular person to particular person. If the response to chemotherapy is favorable, the general survival price is round 72%.

Lymph Node Involvement in Stage III Breast Cancers

So, there’s nonetheless slightly little bit of ambiguity relating to stage III breast cancers. A stage IIIA breast most cancers is one through which the tumor is not more than 5 cms throughout, however with constructive metastasis to the axillary lymph nodes.  The most cancers cells might unfold 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 product of bone, however within the entrance they flip into cartilage simply earlier than they be a part of the sternum.

So, every rib attaches to the sternum with cartilage and every of those cartilage bars are round 5 cm lengthy.  Thus, it may 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 want to take away an inner mammary node, the cartilage in entrance  must be reduce out. Cartilage, sadly, doesn’t develop again or heal and it will depart a niche which makes the rib primarily ineffective.

So, it’s a judgement name by the surgeon as as to if or not one ought to try a surgical strategy to take away 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 efficient 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.)

Typically, chemotherapy is given as adjuvant remedy, however in some instances pre-operative chemotherapy can also be advisable. Breast conservation is usually not a superb choice with stage IIIa breast cancers.
lymph node breast cancer metastasis

Levels of Breast Most cancers:  Stage IIIb

A stage IIIb breast most cancers is one through which the tumor could also be of any measurement nevertheless it has grown into the chest wall or the pores and skin of the breast.  A stage IIIb designation additionally applies if there’s proof of both

  • axillary lymph node metastasis
  • inner mammary node metastasis

presenting in such a approach as to recommend that complete surgical removing shouldn’t be potential.

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

Levels of Breast Most cancers: Stage IIIc

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

  • the lymph nodes behind the sternum
  • lymph nodes beneath 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.



Lastly – some excellent news.


Superior or metastatic breast most cancers: stage IV

Stage IV breast cancers point out the presence of distant metastasis to different elements of the physique, such because the liver or bones.

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

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

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

Additionally it is very important keep in mind that every case is particular person and there’s no telling  actual survival charges for any of the levels of breast most cancers.

Dilemmas of Stage IV Breast Most cancers

Certainly, there are numerous critical and private questions involving stage IV breast most cancers.  So, general survival is much less doubtless, and features from intensive breast most cancers remedy are sadly relatively modest.  A critical consideration is, subsequently, ‘high quality of life’ through the course of remedy.

These selections are typically a dynamic course of, based mostly on particular person instances, between sufferers and physicians.  Respect must be given to the expectations for remedy, the standing of the illness and the affected person needs.
metastasis of breast cancer to the bones

Stage IV breast cancers could also be ‘recurrences’ following preliminary remedy

As much as 5% of intitial breast most cancers 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 illness that has been current for a while undetected.

However metastatic (Stage IV) breast most cancers may also be the results of a recurrence of breast most cancers after a profitable preliminary remedy. Typically the phrases ‘native’ and ‘regional’ recurrence point out a return of breast most cancers 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’s a ‘distant’ metastasis or distant recurrence.

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


Investigations for Levels of Breast Most cancers

The next procedures could also be essential to examine for metastasis:-

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

So, after a breast most cancers analysis, whereas basically the outlook is favorable (compared to different forms of most cancers), it ought to actually be thought-about a ‘continual’ situation.

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


Are you contemplating having NO remedy?

Nervousness, worry, panic, anger and unhappiness are all widespread feelings following a breast most cancers analysis.  In case you are in the midst of a mixture of those emotions, as we speak is just not a great day to make necessary selections.

Right here is my fast ‘think about a means this all will get higher’ line of reasoning, that will help you. Firstly, remedies are so efficient these days and really nicely organized.  Most cancers analysis and coverings are enhancing on a regular basis and the individuals who deal with breast most cancers are skilled specialists.

Give the staff some belief and time to elucidate issues correctly and settle for the remedies. Do one step at a time, someday at a time, and you’ll be amazed on the outcomes.

Add onto that the next self-help strategies:-

  • a lot of sleep
  • good,wholesome recent meals
  • every day train
  • socializing with individuals
  • accepting help from family and friends
  • Be a part of some help teams and join with others dealing with the identical challenges

Every of those is scientifically confirmed to enhance your personal physique’s immunologic struggle towards the most cancers.


  • Iturbe J. Leone, JP,  Zwenger AO, Lacava JA, Vallejo CT, Scuteri RR, Cabaleiro SP, Castro J, Leone, BA. (2008) Remedy of stage I breast most cancers (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 Most cancers. Medical follow tips for the care and remedy of breast most cancers: 15. Remedy for ladies with stage III or regionally superior breast most cancers. CMAJ.  170(6):983-94.

Extra references for this submit are on this web page.

Again to our breast most cancers staging index. . There’s additionally our model new homepage or attempt our posts on Incidence and Mortality Charges.


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