Stages of Breast Cancer and Disease Progression

NOTE: Though lots of this info continues to be valid, The American Joint Committee on Cancer (AJCC) has lately updated their classifications for staging breast tumors.

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

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

The levels of breast cancer are actually the ‘extent‘ of the breast cancer.  So, in order to choose and begin the best treatment it is necessary to ‘stage’ the breast cancer.  The staging course of exhibits the development of the breast cancer.

Breast most cancers progresses in relatively predictable and consistent ways, so it’s attainable to categorize  breast most cancers in terms of  “stages”.

There are principally five levels of breast cancer, with some subcategories (although the levels range from ‘zero’ to ‘four’).

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 round darker circles, are the clusters of cancer cells inside of breast ducts.

Breast cancer development tends to be constant and predictable

There are various ways in which breast cancer can develop however most of the time 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%.

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

If remedy does not happen, breast most cancers will often spread to other areas of the body (metastasize).  Fairly often the first space that a most cancers  often spreads to is the lymph nodes in the underam space (the axilla).

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

Not all breast cancers spread first to the axillary lymph nodes and then to the remaining of the body. If the breast tumor occurs near the nipple, the most cancers might unfold first to the ‘internal mammary nodes’ beneath the sternum. And in some instances the breast most cancers can spread by way of the bloodstream with out involving the lymphatic system.

Talking Moose

Talking Moose

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


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

Dr. HallsDr. Halls

You’re proper of course. Plopping down information onto a page, the matter-of-fact-ness will get out of management. Sorry about that.

Dr. HallsDr. Halls

Lets pause, think about a very good place and chill out, because that is really treatable and even curable.

What investigations are mandatory for Staging Breast Cancer?

Breast cancer 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 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 accurate.  Moreover, if they do nt show any scorching spots of bone metastasis, then the probabilities of remedy increases dramatically.

Talking Moose

Talking Moose

…and most sufferers bones are normal, so this is good 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 Cancer spread to?

Breast most cancers cells seem to favor to settle into:-

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

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

With an ‘osteoblastic‘ bone metastasis, the bone mineral density truly increases, however this could trigger the bones to fracture extra simply. This requires a bit extra rationalization. Breast cancer metastases are typically lytic when they’re untreated, and then they develop into densely sclerotic as they reply to remedy.

Even if no remedy is given but, an osteoblastic metastasis from breast cancer usually indicates that the individuals own body is making an attempt to battle the most cancers with some success.

A CT scan may 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 contrast dye agent into the blood stream and this makes any most cancers cells in the liver and chest simpler to see.

About these 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 isn’t all the time needed, nevertheless. A lymph node biopsy just isn’t often mandatory for DCIS.  Nevertheless,  for invasive breast most cancers, yes, they do have to examine the lymph nodes.

Typically, docs will perform a ‘sentinel node biopsy“, slightly than a full lymph node excisional biopsy if the considerations about cancer unfold are minimal. Cancer cells tend to seem first in the sentinel node earlier than spreading to the other nodes, or different areas of the body.

What’s a ‘primary’ tumor?

The ‘primary’ tumor refers back to the unique breast tumor.   So, any metastases are either ‘secondary’ tumors, or just ‘metastatic breast cancer’.

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

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

Once breast cancer is at this most superior metastatic (systemic) stage, the chances of utterly curing the breast cancer are quite low.  (See our publish on survival charges for Stage IV Breast Cancer).

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

Typical levels of breast cancer development: 0 by way of IV

As mentioned, there are five primary levels of breast cancer with a pair of sub-categories.

Stage zero

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

stage zero breast carcinoma dcis

Right here the malignant cancer cells are present within the lining of the breast duct, however haven’t yet invaded the encompassing breast tissue or unfold beyond the duct. Virtually 100% of DCIS is curable, however it obviously, does need remedy.

Dr. HallsDr. Halls

This DCIS image, exhibits too many tiny purple dots (the cancer 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 cancer is an ‘early stage’ breast most cancers. There’s a considerable difference in medical opinion as to what precisely constitutes early–stagebreast cancer.  Additionally, how aggressive the remedy for Stage I breast most cancers is another space of debate.

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

Furthermore, the tumor measurement is less than 2 cm in diameter. If  physicians can detect and deal with the breast cancer before it grows past 2cm, the prognosis could be very excellent.


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

Dr. HallsDr. Halls

Yes, lots of individuals 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 contain breast conservation surgical procedure,  followed by radiation therapy.


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

Dr. HallsDr. Halls

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

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


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

Dr. HallsDr. Halls

By chance. Let me add some links, to supplement the subject.

I have a brand new publish on imaging the axilla. Also, there’s a submit displaying micrometastases in lymph nodes. Some good recommendation about  arm signs and lymphedema swelling after armpit surgery. We even have an amazing submit on the surgeon’s position in breast cancer. Here is an external link to  lymph node dissection surgical procedure.

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 space 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 3%.   The rate of distant recurrence is about 8%.

Fortunately, around 72% of ladies with stage one breast cancer,  correctly handled, may have no recurrence of breast cancer over 15 years.  Moreover, the estimate for the overall survival price after 15 years is a  little above that, at round 74%.

These statistics are just a little previous so take a look at our brand new submit on Breast Cancer Survival Rates in accordance with Stage

Stage II Breast Cancer

There are principally four 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 much less.  BUT the most cancers cells have already spread to the lymph nodes.
  • OR a breast tumor that is 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 evidence of spread to the lymph nodes or not.

There are literally fairly a number of specific subcategories and letters and numbers to indicate a extra precise description of the breast cancer at Stage II.   (If you need to see extra details on the staging of breast most cancers go to our model new publish HERE).

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


I’m not concerned about stage 2 sub-categories. I’m considering survival possibilities.

Survival Rates for Stage II Breast Cancer

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

See also our new up-to-date survival charges 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 are often needed simply to make certain.

Remedy for Stage II Breast Cancer

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

Research show that applicable adjuvant remedy increases the general survival fee of stage II breast cancers.  Certainly, all patients with stage II breast cancer should think about for adjuvant remedy with their breast cancer group.  This is especially true when there are indications of the beginnings of systemic illness (constructive lymph nodes).

So, studies show that adjuvant chemotherapy increases the disease-free interval and general survival by about 24% and 15% respectively for ladies with node-positive stage II breast cancer.


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


These medicines are means better nowadays. Not the fearful tales you heard as a toddler.

Dr. HallsDr. Halls

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

Stage III breast cancer; regionally advanced

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

Stage III breast cancers are literally a heterogeneous group of cancers, however 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 larger than 5cm in diameter with no obvious metastasis
  • OR the tumor is between 2cm and 5cm in diameter with proof of fairly vital metastasis.

One other method of taking a look at it is that stage III breast cancers either 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 surgery alone.

Remedy of Stage III Breast Cancers

Typically giant breast cancers invade into muscle mass or attach to main arteries, veins or nerve trunks, which makes them unattainable to surgically take away “completely”.

So, for these sufferers, the remedy often begins with radiation or chemo to attempt to shrink it first, before surgery.  But 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 or not it might be handled surgically or not.

Clearly, Stage 3 breast cancers that surgeons can utterly take away do are likely to have a significantly better prognosis than inoperable stage three breast cancers. Nevertheless, some breast tumors, notably these which might be ER constructive, respond very nicely to chemotherapy.   So nicely, in reality,  that they really ‘downstage’.

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

Lymph Node Involvement in Stage III Breast Cancers

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

Somewhat bit concerning the Inner Mammary Lymph Nodes

The interior mammary nodes are situated behind the ribs. Ribs are made of bone, but within the front they flip into cartilage simply before they be a part of the sternum.

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

If it’s worthwhile to remove an inner mammary node, the cartilage in front  must be minimize out. Cartilage, sadly, does not develop back or heal and this can 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 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 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 Cancer

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 at the location of the tumor and the encompassing area.)

lymph node breast cancer metastasis

Typically, chemotherapy is given as adjuvant remedy, however in some instances pre-operative chemotherapy can also be beneficial. Breast conservation is usually not an excellent choice with stage IIIa breast cancers.

Stages of Breast Cancer:  Stage IIIb

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

  • axillary lymph node metastasis
  • inner mammary node metastasis

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

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

Stages 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 have chemotherapy stay alive and illness free after 7 years.


Lastly – some good news.

Advanced or metastatic breast most cancers: stage IV

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

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

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

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

Also it is very important keep in mind that every case is individual and there isn’t any telling  actual survival rates for any of the levels of breast cancer.

Dilemmas of Stage IV Breast Cancer

Certainly, there are various critical and private questions involving stage IV breast most cancers.  So, general survival is much less probably, and positive aspects from intensive breast most cancers remedy are unfortunately quite modest.  A critical consideration is, subsequently, ‘quality of life’ in the course of 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 preliminary remedy

As much as 5% of intitial breast most cancers diagnoses are of probably the most superior or metastatic stage.  Nevertheless, this number has significantly 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 some time undetected.

However metastatic (Stage IV) breast cancer may also be the outcome of a recurrence of breast most cancers after a profitable initial remedy. Typically the terms ‘local’ and ‘regional’ recurrence indicate a return of breast cancer to the original tumor website ( after surgery) or elsewhere within the breast or contralateral breast.

If the cancer returns in other areas of the physique it is a ‘distant’ metastasis or distant recurrence.

For more element on Stage IV survival charges, recurrence rates and remedy please see our new submit HERE.

Investigations for Stages of Breast Cancer

The following procedures could also be necessary to examine for metastasis:-

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

So, after a breast cancer analysis, while typically the outlook is favorable (compared to different varieties of most cancers), it should actually be thought-about a ‘chronic’ condition.

But 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 essential to keep in mind that every case is particular person.  Indeed breast most cancers has been recognized to return even 20 years after a mastecomy, while in others, the progression and systemic improvement of illness may be speedy.

Are you contemplating having NO remedy?

Nervousness, worry, panic, anger and unhappiness are all widespread emotions following a breast cancer analysis.  In case you are within the middle of a mixture of these feelings, as we speak is just not a very good day to make necessary selections.

Right here is my quick ‘imagine a way this all gets better’ line of reasoning, that will help you. Firstly, remedies are so efficient nowadays and very properly organized.  Cancer analysis and remedies are enhancing on a regular basis and the people who treat breast most cancers are experienced specialists.

Give the workforce some trust and time to elucidate things correctly and settle for the remedies. Do one step at a time, in the future at a time, and you’ll be amazed at the outcomes.

Add onto that the next self-help strategies:-

  • tons of sleep
  • good,wholesome recent food
  • day by day train
  • socializing with individuals
  • accepting help from associates and household
  • Be a part of some help groups and connect with others dealing with the same challenges

Each of these is scientifically confirmed to improve your personal physique’s immunologic battle 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 Follow Tips for the Care and Remedy of Breast Cancer. Medical apply 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.