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Breast cancer stages

Making an educated treatment decision begins with the stage, or progression, of the disease. Using the results from your diagnostic tests, your care team at Cancer Treatment Centers of America (CTCA) will develop an appropriate treatment plan for you.

If you have been recently diagnosed, we will review your pathology to confirm you have received the correct diagnosis and staging information, and develop a personalized treatment plan. If you have a recurrence, we will perform comprehensive testing and identify a treatment approach that is suited to your needs.

Video: Cancer Staging

Cancer Staging

Stage III breast cancer

Stage III breast cancer is a more advanced form of invasive breast cancer. At this stage, the cancer cells have usually not spread to more distant sites in the body, but they are present in several axillary (underarm) lymph nodes. The tumor may also be quite large at this stage, possibly extending to the chest wall or the skin of the breast.

Types of stage III breast cancer

Stage III breast cancer is divided into three categories:

In stage IIIA breast cancer, one of the following is true:

  • No tumor is found in the breast, but cancer is present in axillary lymph nodes that are attached to either other or other structures, or cancer may be found in the lymph nodes near the breast bone, or
  • The tumor is 2 cm or smaller. Cancer has spread to axillary lymph nodes that are attached to each other or other structures, or cancer may have spread to lymph nodes near the breastbone, or
  • The tumor is 2 - 4 cm in size. Cancer has spread to axillary lymph nodes that are attached to each other or to other structures, or cancer may have spread to lymph nodes near the breast bone, or
  • The tumor is larger than 5 cm. Cancer has spread to axillary lymph nodes that may be attached to each other or to other structures, or cancer may have spread to lymph nodes near the breastbone.

In stage IIIB breast cancer, the tumor may be any size, and the cancer:

  • Has spread to the chest wall and/or skin of the breast, and
  • May have spread to axillary lymph nodes that may be attached to each other or to other structures, or cancer may have spread to lymph nodes near the breastbone.
  • Cancer that has spread to the skin of the breast is inflammatory breast cancer.

In stage IIIC breast cancer:

  • There may be no sign of cancer in the breast or the tumor may be any size, and may have spread to the chest wall and/or skin of the breast.
  • Cancer cells are present in lymph nodes above or below the collarbone
  • Cancer cells may have spread to axillary lymph nodes or lymph nodes near the breastbone. \
  • Cancer that has spread to the skin of the breast is inflammatory breast cancer.

Stage IIIC breast cancer may be operable or inoperable:

  • In operable stage IIIC: cancer is found in 10 or more axillary lymph nodes, or is in lymph nodes below the collarbone, or is in axillary lymph nodes and lymph nodes near the breastbone
  • In inoperable stage IIIC: cancer has spread to the lymph nodes above the collarbone

The survival rate for stage IIIA breast cancer may be slightly higher than for stage 3B, and the survival rate for stage IIIB may be slightly higher than for stage IIIC. However all women diagnosed with stage III breast cancer have several promising treatment options.

TNM

At stage III, TNM designations help describe the extent of the disease. Higher numbers indicate more extensive disease. Most commonly, stage III breast cancer is described as:

  • T: T1, T2, T3 or T4, depending on the size and/or extent of the primary tumor.
  • N1: Cancer has spread to the lymph nodes
  • M0: The disease has not spread to other sites in the body

We're here to guide you through the cancer journey

We understand you may be feeling overwhelmed with questions and concerns about your type of cancer and what it all means. We're here to help guide you through the process.

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accurate cancer diagnosis

Our team of cancer experts uses advanced, minimally invasive diagnostic technology to detect cancerous cells anywhere in the body.

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