Your doctor determines your stage of breast cancer through examination of the tissue removed during a mastectomy or lumpectomy and of the lymph nodes under your arm (axillary lymph nodes).
Staging your cancer gives your doctor an idea of your prognosis \u2014 the likely outcome
of your disease \u2014 and helps guide treatment decisions. The 0 to 4 staging system,
based on data from large numbers of people with breast cancer, estimates your chance
of surviving for at least five years after your diagnosis. The numbers express
probability, not certainty. With advances in detection and treatment, people with
breast cancer are living longer than ever before.
Your breast cancer stage depends partly on the size of your tumor and partly on
whether cancer cells have spread from the breast to other areas of your body,
including your lymph nodes. The higher the stage, the larger the tumor or the more
the cancer has spread. In stages I and II, tumors are generally no more than 2
centimeters (cm), or about 3/4 inches, in diameter \u2014 about the size of a corn kernel or
a shelled peanut. Stage III and stage IV tumors tend to be more than 5 cm (2 in) in
diameter \u2014 about the size of a small lime \u2014 but smaller tumors may have spread
beyond the breast by the time they're detected.
The five-year overall survival rate for women treated for stage I breast cancer is close
to 100 percent. This refers to the number of people who live at least five years after
their cancer is found.
If you have stage III breast cancer, known as locally or regionally advanced cancer,
your cancer may have spread to lymph nodes near your breast \u2014 those located under
your arm or by your collarbone \u2014 but not to more distant parts of your body. Here are
You may have a tumor that's larger than 5 cm (2 in), with cancer cells that
have spread to your axillary lymph nodes. However, the nodes aren't attached
to one another (A).
Your tumor is smaller than 5 cm (2 in), but the cancer has spread into nearby
lymph nodes and the nodes are growing into each other or the surrounding
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