Breast Cancer Review

Breast Cancer Stages

Following an initial diagnosis of breast cancer, a woman often feels frightened and overwhelmed; then later as she adjusts, she starts to gather as much information about her condition as possible, both from her medical doctors and from outside sources. In the meantime, the physician will have started the patient on additional tests that will pinpoint the specifics of the woman’s cancer. This important testing will establish what is called her breast cancer stage.

It should be noted that breast cancer is different in each individual and, therefore, the breast cancer stage of each patient’s disease needs to be classified. This is all very confusing to the newly initiated woman and family, but this rating system is vital for detailing each person’s tumor. Then the best possible treatment plan can be designed by her doctors. This process called “staging” is most commonly expressed through a system which uses Roman numerals, capital letters, more capital letters, and numbers (called the AJCC/TNM staging system). After all diagnostic tests are completed, the woman’s breast cancer stage is then assigned.

Under the Roman numerals, the breast cancer stage of 0 means the cancer is confined to the site of origin; I through IV establishes progression, with IV meaning the cancer is the worst and has spread to other parts of the body (called metastasis). As listed in the American Cancer Society’s summary of breast cancer stages, the capital letters following the Roman numerals are A and B and C, further rating the progression of the tumor in severity. The capital letters used next are T and N and M: T is for “tumor” size and location; N stands for lymph “node” involvement; M means “metastasis” and denotes whether the cancer has spread to a distant area of the body. These letters are followed by numbers (usually 1, 2, 3, 4) which detail even more precise rating.

A classification of the breast cancer stages combines the Roman numbers, capital letters and numbers. For example, Stage I: T1, N0, M0 is a tumor of 2 cm. or less, no lymph node involvement, no metastasis. Another example is Stage IIIB: T4, N0-2, M0 where the tumor is enlarged, involves 0 to more lymph nodes, but has no metastasis. The most serious of the breast cancer stages is Stage IV: T0-4, N0-3, M1 where the tumor can be small to large in size, may be in the lymph nodes, and has definitely spread (metastasized) to another area of the body, like the liver, lungs or bones.

For those who like to visualize in a table form, the stages are listed below, using the T, N, M classifications:

Stage O:
Tis, N0, M0 (“is” stands for “in situ”)

Stage I:
T1, N0, M0

Stage IIA:
T0, M1, M0
T1, N1, M0
T2, N0, M0

Stage IIB:
T2, N1, M0
T3, N0, M0

Stage IIIA:
T0, N2, M0
T1, N2, M0
T2, N2, M0
T3, N1, M0
T3, N2, M0

Stage IIIB:
T4, N0-2, M0

Stage IIIC:
T0-4, N3, M0

Stage IV:
T0-4, N0-3, M1

Breast Cancer Resources

American Cancer Society

People Living With Cancer

United States National Library of Medicine

National Breast Cancer Foundation

Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation

Health Coverage from Health Insurance .org

WebMD Health

Dr. Susan Love Research Foundation

National Cancer Institute

Breast Cancer Research Foundation

Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center

Y-ME National Breast Cancer Foundation

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention


Abramson Cancer Center of the University of Pennsylvania

Inflammatory Breast Cancer Research Foundation

Women’s Information Network Against Breast Cancer

Breast Cancer

Cancer News On the Net

Massachusetts Breast Cancer Coalition

Mothers Supporting Daughters With Breast Cancer

Breast Cancer Online

National Breast Cancer Coalition

Breast Cancer Fund

Breast Cancer Action

Breast Cancer Care

Breast Cancer Campaign

Cancer BACUP

Canadian Breast Cancer Network

Breast Cancer Society of Canada

Breast Cancer Action – Ottawa

Info Breast Cancer

Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation

National Breast Cancer Centre

National Breast Cancer Foundation

New South Wales Breast Cancer Institute

Breast Cancer Stages
Known Risk Factors
Breast Cancer Survival
Recurrence Information
Breast Cancer Metastasis
Detection and Diagnosis
Male Breast Cancer

Valid HTML 4.01!