One in eight women will develop breast cancer in their lifetimes. Fortunately, the majority will survive — 89% survive for at least 5 years.

First abnormal cells
Breast cancer begins in the lobules that produce milk and ducts that channel it to the nipples. It appears first as a few abnormal cells. If untreated, the cancerous cells spread to the woman’s lymph system, through which they can spread to other organs.


Overgrowth of normal cells, which may begin to block the duct. Some of these cells might begin to appear abnormal.

Stage 0

“In situ carcinoma” is confined to the duct; rarely causes a noticeable lump but may be detected by a mammogram

Stage 1

Normal Lumps develop when duct abnormal cells escape the ducts or lobules and invade adjoining tissue. Tumor less than about 3/4 inch. Abnormal cells

Blood vessels

Lymph nodes Mammary gland lobules

Stage 2

Growing Tumor 1 to cells 2 inches in diameter; cancer may be spreading to lymph nodes around Cells breast and in spread shoulder


Lymph ducts
The lymph system carries lymph, a thin, watery fluid, throughout the body. It is a common route for the spread of cancer cells.

Stage 3

Tumor larger than 2 inches; may have invaded chest wall or skin; has spread to lymph nodes

Mammary gland ducts

Stage 4

Tumor Experts estimate that about one out of every eight women born today will be diagnosed with breast cancer. The strongest risk factor for breast cancer is age. The median age at diagnosis is 61. Other factors can also increase a woman’s risk of developing breast cancer, including inherited changes in certain genes, a personal or family history of breast cancer, having dense breasts, beginning to menstruate before age 12, starting menopause after age 55, having a first full-term pregnancy after age 30, never having been pregnant, obesity after menopause, and alcohol use.

Cancer has spread to other sites, such as lungs, bone or liver

SOURCE: University of Washington Medical Center


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