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Breast Cancer Treatment

Learn how genetic test results may affect medical decisions about cancer treatment.”

Breast cancer stages and types

Not all breast cancer is the same. Doctors use certain procedures and tests to gather information about the stage and type of breast cancer in order to develop a treatment plan for their patient.

Stages of breast cancer

The stage of a cancer refers to whether the cancer has spread beyond the breast, and if so, where in the body the cancer has spread.

In breast cancer, there are five major stages.  

  • Stage 0: A stage 0 breast cancer is known as a ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS), a non-invasive form of the disease.  The tumor cells are contained within the ducts of the breasts, and have not invaded beyond the duct.
  • Stage I: A stage I breast cancer is a small tumor (£ 2 cm) that is contained within the breast.
  • Stage II: A stage II breast cancer can be either a larger tumor that involves the breast only, or a tumor that also involves the low-lying lymph nodes in the armpit.
  • Stage III: A stage III breast cancer can be either a tumor in the breast that invades the skin or pectoral muscle, or a tumor that more extensively involve the regional lymph node area surrounding the breast (in the armpit, near the collarbone, near the breast bone). Stage III breast cancers are generally considered “locally advanced.”
  • Stage IV: A stage IV breast cancer is one that has spread beyond the breast and the regional lymph node area to a distant site in the body, such as the bone, lung, and/or liver.  Stage IV breast cancers are considered “advanced” or “metastatic.”

Generally, breast cancer in stages I to III are considered potentially curable so all treatment recommendations for breast cancer in these stages are made with the goal of cure.  Stage IV or metastatic breast cancer is considered treatable, and there are many ongoing clinical trials focused on this stage of the disease.

Types of breast cancer

Doctors look for chemical markers that may be present in breast tumors. These markers provide information about which treatments may work best for the patient. National guidelines state that these tumor markers should be assessed in all cases of invasive breast cancer. 

  • estrogen receptor (ER)
  • progesterone receptor (PR)
  • HER2 receptor 

Tumors that are positive for Her2 receptors are often called "Her2 positive breast cancer." Tumors that are positive for estrogen or progesterone receptors are considered "ER/PR positive breast cancer." Tumors that are negative for all three markers are referred to as "Triple-negative breast cancer" or sometimes "TNBC" for short. 

updated 9/27/15

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