Breast cancer stages are determined by the size of tumors, whether the cancer has affected the lymph nodes, and whether it has spread to other parts of the body. Knowing the breast cancer stages can help you understand your condition and what your prognosis is if you discover you do have the disease.
The earliest breast cancer stage is zero. At this point in the disease, the cancer has not spread to other parts of the body. In fact, any atypical cells that might be cancerous have not spread outside of the breast’s ducts or lobules. While some atypical cells might be found in these areas, they have not yet spread to the breast tissue. This is a very treatable stage of breast cancer, and the National Cancer Institute reports that there is a 100 percent five-year survival rate for this stage of breast cancer if properly diagnosed and treated. If left untreated, though, cancerous cells can spread to breast tissue and throughout the rest of the body.
Stage I breast cancer is also very treatable. Nearly everyone (98 percent) diagnosed with stage I breast cancer survive for at least five years. In this stage, the cancer is located in the breast tissue, but it has not spread to other body parts, including the lymph nodes. The tumors (lumps) in this breast cancer stage are sized at two centimeters or less.
Patients with breast cancer stage II still have an 88 percent five-year survival rate. Those diagnosed with breast cancer stage IIA have tumors that are two centimeters or smaller in size and the cancer has spread to up to three lymph nodes (usually in the underarm area). Those with stage II could also have tumors up to five centimeters in size, but no lymph nodes are affected. Breast cancer stage IIB is slight more developed. Stage IIB cancer tumors can be up to five centimeters in size and be affecting lymph nodes, or up to eight centimeters without affecting lymph nodes.
Survival rates do drop with breast cancer stage IIIA, but patients still have a 52 percent five-year survival rate. Like stage II, there are two categories for stage III. In stage IIIA, a tumor can be between two and five centimeters, and up to nine underarm lymph nodes can be affected. In stage IIIB, the cancer has spread to parts of the body other than the breasts, such as the collarbone, ribs, or muscles. Patients with breast cancer stage IIIB have a 49 percent chance of surviving for five years.
Stage IV is the highest and most serious stage of breast cancer, with only a 16 percent five-year survival rate. In this stage, the cancer has spread from the breasts to other parts of the body, such as the skeletal system, brain, liver, or lungs. Parts of the body located near the breast could be affected, but the cancer might also have spread to other areas of the body. This is the most difficult stage of breast cancer to treat, but it should be noted that there are many, many individuals today who are alive and well and living productive lives after fighting and recovering from aggressive stage IV breast cancers.