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Your breast specialist needs certain information about the cancer to help decide on the most appropriate treatment| for you. This includes the stage| of the cancer, its grade| and whether it has receptors| for hormones, proteins, or both. Your breast specialist and breast care nurse will talk this over with you.
The stage of a cancer describes its size and whether it has spread beyond the area of the body where it started.
Your surgeon won’t know the stage of the cancer until after your operation| and when the results of all your tests| are ready.
Breast cancer can be divided into four number stages, which measure the size of the cancer (lump) and whether it’s spread to the lymph nodes or another part of the body.
Stage 1 The cancer (lump) is smaller than, or equal to, 2cm and has not spread to the lymph nodes in the armpit|.
Stage 2 is divided into two stages:
Stage 3 is divided into three stages:
Stage 4 – The cancer has spread to other parts of the body such as the bones|, liver| or lungs|. This is called secondary or metastatic breast cancer|.
This section is about stage 1–3 breast cancer. If you have stage 4 breast cancer, you may find our information about secondary breast cancer| helpful.
The number stage is combined with a letter system called TNM, which gives the complete stage of the cancer:
You may hear some other terms used to describe breast cancer:
Grading refers to how the cancer cells look under the microscope compared with normal breast cells.
As well as describing the stage and grade of breast cancer, doctors will also check to see whether the tumour has hormone and HER receptors| . Knowing the stage, grade and receptor status helps doctors to choose the most appropriate treatment for you.
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Content last reviewed: 1 August 2011
Next planned review: 2013
For answers, support or just a chat, call the Macmillan Support Line free (Monday to Friday, 9am-8pm)
If you have any questions about cancer, need support or just want someone to talk to, ask Macmillan.
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© Macmillan Cancer Support 2013
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