The 4 Stages of Breast Cancer

The definition of cancer may soon change: Some experts recently suggested in The Journal of the American Medical Association that early, noninvasive cancers not be called cancer to nix unnecessary treatments. But understanding the current phases of breast cancer can help take the mystery out of staying healthy.

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Stage I

What it is: Either a tumor mass 2 centimeters or smaller within the breast; a tumor 2 centimeters or less along with small clusters of cancer cells in the lymph nodes; or cancer cells (no tumor) found in the lymph nodes. Treatment may involve mastectomy or lumpectomy and radiation; sometimes chemo or hormone therapy. The five-year survival rate is high—88 percent.

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Stage II

What it is: Stage IIA can include any tumor that's 2 to 5 centimeters but hasn't spread to the lymph nodes, or is smaller than 2 centimeters and has spread to up to three nodes under the arm or near the breastbone. A stage IIB tumor is either 2 to 5 centimeters with cancer also in lymph nodes, or is larger than 5 centimeters with no lymph nodes involved. Surgery, chemo and/or hormone therapy may be needed.

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