What Are the Stages of Breast Cancer?

Receiving a breast cancer diagnosis can be scary, especially if you do not understand the extent of the cancer or your treatment options. Add the financial burden of high deductibles and co-pays, and it might seem hopeless.

The HealthyWoman Program is here to help. First, let’s ease your mind about the high cost of medical care. The HealthyWoman Program provides financial help for cancer screenings and diagnostic testing to women who are uninsured or underinsured in 24 counties in Pennsylvania. See if you qualify today.

What are the breast cancer stages and what do they mean? Read on below.

There are different ways of naming breast cancer stages. The traditional method names the breast cancer stages by number: Stage 0 – IV. Most people know that a Stage IV cancer means that it is advanced, but few know the difference between Stage I and Stage II, let alone Stage Ia or Ib. As you will see below, even subcategories of this traditional method are not readily defined and can be confusing.

This is why many doctors and cancer specialists use the TNM staging. TNM stands for Tumor, Node (as in lymph node), and Metastasis. Each letter is then assigned a number based on the advancement of the cancer. Tumors can be assigned X-4 based on the size of the tumor and whether it is invasive. Nodes can be assigned X-3 based on the degree to which the cancer has spread to the lymph nodes. Metastasis will either be followed by a zero or a one, to indicate whether or not the cancer has metastasized or spread to other parts of the body.

Stages 0-IV

Stage 0

A breast cancer that is Stage 0 is a non-invasive cancer, meaning that there is no evidence that cancer cells have broken out of the tissue in which they started growing.

Stage IA

The tumor is less than 2 centimeters (cm) in diameter and the cancer has not spread outside of the breast.

Stage IB

No tumor has been found, but groups of cancerous cells less than 2 millimeters (mm) are found in the lymph nodes, or there is a tumor less than 2cm in diameter as well as groups of cancerous cells less than 2mm in the lymph nodes.

Stage IIA

No tumor has been found, but groups of cancerous cells larger than 2mm have been found in the lymph nodes located under the arm or near the breast bone. Stage IIA can also describe a cancer in which there is a tumor, if the tumor is less than 2cm in diameter and cancerous cells have been found in the lymph nodes, or if the tumor is between 2cm to 5cm, but has not spread to the lymph nodes.

Stage IIB

The tumor is between 2cm to 5cm in diameter and groups of cancerous cells less than 2mm have been found in the lymph nodes. Stage IIB can also describe a tumor larger than 5cm that has not spread to the lymph nodes.

Stage IIIA

A tumor has not been found or a tumor has been found and the cancer has been found in 4 to 9 lymph nodes under the arm or near the breast bone. Stage IIIA can also describe a tumor larger than 5cm in diameter with cancer cells spread to 1 to 3 lymph nodes under the arm or near the breast bone.

Stage IIIB

In Stage IIIB, the tumor can be any size if it has spread to the chest wall or the skin and up to 9 lymph nodes under the arm or near the breast bone.

Stage IIIC

Whether there is a tumor or not, Stage IIIC can describe a cancer that has spread to 10 or more lymph nodes under the arm or near the breast bone, or any lymph nodes near the collar bone.

Stage IV

Stage IV describes a cancer that has spread or metastasized beyond the breasts and into other organs.

Routine breast cancer screenings and diagnostic testing help to prevent the disease. If you’re worried about paying for the exams, contact The HealthyWoman Program of Central PA today. The HealthyWoman Program may be able to provide the financial support you need, at no cost to you. Fill out this brief questionnaire to find out if you are eligible.