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Understanding the Stages of Breast Cancer

Last updated 2 years ago

The severity of breast cancer is quantified in stages, zero through four, with four being the most severe. The stages of breast cancer are determined based on the size of the tumor and the spread of cancerous cells in the body. To determine which stage cancer has progressed to, tests are performed on the tumor and lymph nodes.

The Spread of Cancer

Tumors that form in the breast may release cancer cells that can travel and form new tumors throughout the body. Cancer can spread through the body’s tissue, blood, or lymph nodes. Cancer that has spread throughout the body, or metastasized, is more difficult to treat; it is possible to have late-stage cancer without a sizeable tumor present.


Staging is the testing and analysis process through which the stage of breast cancer is determined. Some tests that may be performed include sentinel lymph node biopsies, chest X-rays, CT scans, bone scans, and PET scans.

Stage 0

Stage 0 is also known as carcinoma in situ. In this stage, abnormal cells have been found but are noninvasive and do not affect the surrounding tissue.

Stage I

Stage I indicates that cancer has formed. Either a small tumor in the breast (IA) or a cluster of breast cancer cells in the lymph nodes (IB) has been found. Tumors in this stage are 2 cm or smaller.

Stage II and III

There are several variables within these stages. A combination of the size of the tumor and the spread of cancer through the lymph nodes determines the severity. In stage III, cancer may spread to the skin, causing ulcers or swelling. This is known as inflammatory breast cancer. Stage IIIC marks the point when certain cancers may be inoperable.

Stage IV

Stage IV cancer indicates that cancer has spread to other organs of the body. Frequently, this includes the bones, lungs, liver, or brain.

To learn more about breast cancer, or to schedule an appointment for screening or treatment, contact Dr. Marla W. Dudak, MD. Call today at (888) 418-6759.


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