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Breast Cancer Stages

The proper identification of breast cancer stages is crucial to determining the proper treatment for breast cancer. Breast cancer stages are used to by physicians to determine the size and location of a patient's breast cancer.

There are a number of tests that can be performed to determine breast cancer stages.

Blood tests can also be useful in determining whether the cancer has spread and give an indication of a patient's overall health.

TNM System

The American Joint Committee of Cancer uses the TNM system to classify breast cancer stages.

  • T - tumor size
  • N - palpable nodes
  • M - metastasis

A patient's breast cancer will be evaluated using these three criteria in order to determine breast cancer stages. Each of these categories is evaluated and assigned a number 0-4. The higher the number, the more serious or advanced the breast cancer.

After the TNM classification system is applied, the finding are evaluated together to determine breast cancer stages.

Iless than 2cm diameternono
II2 to 5cmNo, or in same side of breastno
IIImore than 5cmyes, on same side of breastno

Breast cancer stages II and III are further divided into two subcategories (denoted by A and B) based on lymph node involvement. In addition to breast cancer stages I through IV, there are also two types of categories which are considered stage 0 breast cancer. Stage 0 breast cancer is "in situ" meaning the cancer is contained and has not spread beyond the breast ductal system. LCIS (lobular carcinoma in situ) is the second type of Stage 0 breast cancer, and indicates a high risk of breast cancer. Fifteen to twenty percent of all breast cancer stages detected through clinical breast examination are Stage 0 breast cancers.

Breast Cancer Treatment

Treatment for breast cancer is largely dependant on breast cancer stages. Breast cancer stages I and II are often treated in the same way. Women with Stage I or II breast cancer may receive breast conserving therapy (i.e. lumpectomy and/or axillary node dissection, plus radiation) or a mastectomy. Women with Stage II breast cancer will often require radiation therapy if the tumor is large or has spread to the lymph nodes. Breast cancer stages III and IV will often require chemotherapy, hormonal therapy, lumpectomy or mastectomy, radiation, and other medications.

Survival Rates

Breast cancer stages are also used by medical professionals to provide a breast cancer prognosis to their patients. The higher the breast cancer stage the lower the probability of survival. This is one reason why is it so crucial to detect and treat breast cancer as early as possible. The following chart will provide an approximate 5-year survival rate based on breast cancer stages.


It is important to keep in mind that these are general estimations of survival, and that a prognosis will ultimately depend on a patient's individual health.

Contact A Board Certified Plastic Surgeon Near You

If you would like to learn more about breast cancer stages you may wish to speak further with your doctor. If you have been diagnosed with breast cancer and are interested in breast surgery, please contact us to speak with a qualified surgeon who can discuss your breast recontruction options.