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Breast cancer staging

Once your health care team knows you have breast cancer, they will do more tests to stage it. Staging is a tool the team uses to find out how advanced the cancer is. The stage of the cancer depends on the size and location of a tumor, whether it has spread, and how far the cancer has spread.

Your health care team uses staging to help:

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Two Types of Staging

There are two types of staging for breast cancer.

Clinical staging is based on tests done before surgery. These may include:

Pathological staging uses the results from lab tests done on breast tissue and lymph nodes removed during surgery. This type of staging will help determine additional treatment and help predict what to expect after treatment ends.

How Stages are Determined

Stages of breast cancer are defined by a system called TNM:

What the Stages Mean

Doctors use seven main stages to describe breast cancer.

How Staging Guides Treatment

The type of cancer you have, along with the stage, will help determine your treatment. With stage I, II, or III breast cancer, the main goal is to cure the cancer by treating it and keeping it from coming back. With stage IV, the goal is to improve symptoms and prolong life. In almost all cases, stage IV breast cancer cannot be cured.

Recurrent Cancer

Cancer can come back after treatment ends. If it does, it can occur in the breast, in distant parts of the body, or in both places. If it does return, it may need to be restaged.

References

National Cancer Institute website. Breast cancer treatment (adult) (PDQ) - health professional version. www.cancer.gov/types/breast/hp/breast-treatment-pdq. Updated September 21, 2021. Accessed December 6, 2021.

Neumayer L, Viscusi RK. Assessment and designation of breast cancer stage. In: Bland KI, Copeland EM, Klimberg VS, Gradishar WJ, eds. The Breast: Comprehensive Management of Benign and Malignant Diseases. 5th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2018:chap 37.

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Review Date: 10/28/2021  

Reviewed By: Todd Gersten, MD, Hematology/Oncology, Florida Cancer Specialists & Research Institute, Wellington, FL. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

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