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Different stages of breast cancer

Breast Cancer

Breast cancer is commonly found in many women these days. If it is not identified and treated in its early stages, it can worsen in later stages and result in death. Breast cancer originates in the cells of the lobules (glands responsible for producing milk) or ducts (the passages which allow the milk to drain from the lobules to nipple). Those who are suffering from breast cancer must seek a report from the pathology department.

Breast cancer can be classified into two categories namely non-invasive cancer and invasive cancer. Non-invasive breast cancer affects the milk ducts or lobules within the breast and do not develop into or invade the other (normal) tissues inside or outside the breast. On the other hand, invasive breast cancer does develop into normal as well as healthy tissues. Most of the women are affected by invasive breast cancer. However, once you have been detected with breast cancer, you must visit an experienced doctor to determine the treatment that is apt for you. Many people also suffer from another form of breast cancer, which is known as “mixed tumor”. In this particular type of cancer, the patient suffers from a combination of cancerous ductal cells as well as lobular cells. Not many men suffer from breast cancer and the ones who do usually have a ductal carcinoma. Here, take a look at the different stages of breast cancer.

Stages of Breast Cancer

When it comes to stages, a particular stage in breast cancer is expressed in terms of a number on a scale of 0-IV. While a patient in stage 0 is said to be suffering from non-invasive cancers found at the place from where they began, stage IV is the stage best described as invasive cancers which spreads outside the breast area and starts affecting the other organs of the human body.

The different stages in breast cancer are basically based on four main characteristics including the size of the cancer, whether it is invasive or non-invasive cancer, whether the breast cancer is lying in the lymph nodes and whether it has spread outside the breast and affected the other organs of the body.

1. Stage 0

A patient in stage 0 of the breast cancer basically suffers from the non-invasive type of breast cancer. When a patient is in stage 0, there is no proper evidence of any cancer cells or non-cancerous abnormal cells spreading out of the breast. There is also no concrete evidence that suggests that the cancer cells are getting inside the normal tissue.

2. Stage I

A patient in stage I of the breast cancer is said to be affected from invasive cancer. This implies that the cancer cells are invading the closeby breast tissues in which the tumor is measuring up to 2 cm and none of the lymph nodes have been affected. There is a high possibility of microscopic invasion in stage I of the breast cancer. In this type of invasion, the cancer cells basically just begin to get inside the tissues located outside the lining of the duct or lobule. However, the invading cancer cells are not more than 1 mm in size.

3. Stage II

The stage II of breast cancer is basically divided into two categories including IIA and IIB. While in stage IIA, a patient suffers from invasive breast cancer and does not have tumor in the breast but cancer cells can be found in the lymph nodes beneath the arm. This tumor is as much as 2 cm or even smaller in size and may also have spread outside and affected the axillary lymph nodes. In some cases, the size of the tumor is more than 2 cm but not more than 5 cm and it does not cause any harm to the axillary lymph nodes.

On the other hand, in stage IIB, a patient suffers from invasive breast cancer and is detected with a tumor, which is more than 2 cm large, however, it is not larger than 5 cm. This tumor may also have invaded the axillary lymph nodes in the patient’s body. In many cases, the tumor is more than 5 cm in size but may not have affected the axillary lymph nodes at all.

4. Stage III

Stage III of breast cancer can be subdivided into three categories that are commonly known as IIIA, IIIB, and IIIC.

a. Stage IIIA: Patients in stage IIIA are known to be suffering from invasive breast cancer in which either a patient is found with a tumor in his breast, but cancer is present in axillary lymph nodes that are hitched together or are sticking to other structures inside her body. In some case, the cancer gets inside the lymph nodes lying close to the breast bone or the cancer (is of any size) and invades the axillary lymph nodes that are hitched together or are stuck to other structures inside the body.

b. Stage IIIB: In stage IIIB, a patient is basically said to be affected by invasive breast cancer and the cancer could be of any random size and also affects the chest wall and/or breast skin and may also invade the axillary lymph nodes that again are hitched together or stick to other body structures. In many cases, it has been observed that the cancer affects the lymph nodes lying closer to the breast bone. Those suffering from Inflammatory breast cancer are considered to be in stage IIIB. This particular cancer causes a large area of the breast skin to turn red, the patient’s breast usually feels warm and could also be swollen in some cases and the cancer cells spread outside the breast and affect the lymph nodes as well as the skin.

c. Stage IIIC: In stage IIIC, which is described as invasive breast cancer, there is no obvious sign of cancer found in the breast or, if a tumor is found (it may be of any particular size), it may have spread outside and affect the chest wall and/or the breast skin and the cancer invades the lymph nodes below or above the collar bone.

5. Stage IV

A patient in stage IV of breast cancer is known to be suffering from invasive breast cancer that may have spread outside the breast and lymph nodes or to other parts of the body including lungs, skin, distant lymph nodes, liver, brain or bones. A doctor may use terms such as “metastatic” and “advanced” to describe this particular stage of breast cancer.

TNM System

TNM (tumor, node, metastasis) is yet another type of staging system that researchers generally make use to offer more details pertaining to cancer and how it behaves and looks like. This system can be based on the following characteristics:

  1. Size of the tumor
  2. Involvement of lymph node
  3. Whether the cancer has metastasized or moved outside the breast to other organs of the body.


Once the pathology report has successfully determined the stage of breast cancer in you, the doctor will start determining the ways to get rid of cancer and then take a closer look at one or more of the underarm lymph nodes. This is the area where breast cancer spreads first. The doctor will also suggest you to take a couple of blood tests or imaging tests to find out, if the cancer has spread outside the breast or not.

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