Breast Cancer

Staging

What Staging Reveals

Once breast cancer has been found, it is staged. Staging means determining how far the cancer has progressed. Through staging, the doctor can tell if the cancer has spread and, if so, to what parts of the body. More tests may be performed to help determine the stage. Knowing the stage of the disease helps the doctor plan treatment.

Staging will let the doctor know

  • the size of the tumor and exactly where it is in the breast
  • if the cancer has spread within the breast
  • if cancer is present in the lymph nodes under the arm
  • if cancer is present in other parts of the body

Stages of Breast Cancer

  • Stage 0 -- This is very early breast cancer that has not spread within or outside the breast. Doctors often refer to this type of cancer as in situ or non-invasive cancer.
  • Stage I and stage II also are early stages of breast cancer. Stage I means that the tumor has not spread beyond the breast. In stage II, the tumor may be larger and may have spread to the lymph nodes.
  • Stage III is called locally advanced cancer. Here the tumor has spread beyond the breast to lymph nodes or to other tissues near the breast.
  • Stage IV is metastatic cancer. In this stage the cancer has spread beyond the breast and the underarm lymph nodes to other parts of the body, most often the bones, lungs, liver, or brain.

The choice of treatment is based on many factors. For stage I, II or III cancers, the main goals are to treat the cancer and reduce the chance it will come back, either at the place where the tumor first occurred or elsewhere in the body. For stage IV cancer, the goal is to improve symptoms and prolong survival.

Read more details about the stages of breast cancer.