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American Cancer Society

Provides information that can help you understand your diagnosis.

 

BreastCancer.org

Provides information about stages of breast cancer.

 

 
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your Cancer Stage

Breast cancer staging ranges from Stage O to Stage IV. The stage is determined by the tumor's size (T), whether the cancer has spread to the nodes (N), and if it has metastasized (M).

Tumor (T)

  • T1 = 0-2cm
  • T2 = 2-5cm
  • T3 = greater than 5cm
  • T4 = ulcerating through the skin or stuck to the chest wall
(Note: 2cm = 3/4 inch; 5cm = 2 inches)

Nodes (N)

The surgeon examines the nodes in the armpit (the axillary nodes) to determine if the cancer has spread.
  • N-0: No axillary nodes are palpable (can be felt by the hands).
  • N-1a: The axillary nodes are palpable, but negative—cancer cells have not spread to these nodes.
  • N-1b: The axillary nodes are palpable and positive—cancer cells have spread to these nodes.
  • N-2: The axillary nodes are large and matted together OR there is a positive mammary node inside the chest.
  • N-3: There are positive nodes near the collarbone OR there are positive axillary nodes and mammary nodes inside the chest.

Metastasis (M)

  • M-0: The tumor has not spread to other areas of the body
  • M-1: The tumor has spread to other areas.
  • M-x : The doctor is not able to determine if the cancer has spread to other areas.

Breast Cancer Staging

The tumor’s T, N, and M are combined to determine the stage.
  • Stage 0: The tumor has not gone outside of the ducts. It is noninvasive. It is a ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS) or lobular carcinoma in situ (LCIS).
  • Stage I: The tumor is T1 (0-2cm) with negative lymph nodes (N-0).
  • Stage IIA: The tumor is small (T1) with positive lymph nodes OR it is 2-5cm (T2) with negative lymph nodes (N-0).
  • Stage IIB: The tumor is 2-5cm (T2) with positive lymph nodes OR larger than 5cm (T3) with negative lymph nodes (N-0).
  • Stage IIIA: A tumor larger than 5cm (T3) AND/OR that has spread to the lymph nodes or surrounding tissue.
  • Stage IIIB: A tumor of any size that has spread to the skin, chest wall, or internal mammary lymph nodes.
  • Stage IIIC: A tumor of any size that has spread to nodes near the collarbone OR to both internal and axillary nodes.
  • Stage IV - a tumor of any size that has metastasized (spread) to a different part of the body, such as the lungs, liver, or brain.

Note: Tumors that are stage IIIB or IIIC are sometimes also referred to as “locally advanced.”