Staging breast cancer

Staging is a process of assessing the extent of a tumour. Other tests may also be necessary if cancer is diagnosed. These include blood tests and a chest X-ray.

In some situations a bone scan and a CT scan of the chest, abdomen and pelvis may be done.

The complete results from the biopsy and any further tests will help to determine the best treatment for you.

With this information your doctors will know if you have an early breast cancer, locally advanced breast cancer, or metastatic (secondary) breast cancer.

The following table sets out the breast cancer stages.

Stages of breast cancer

Stages of breast cancer 


Specialists treat Stages 1 and 2 and early Stage 3 in the same way: an operation, or operation as well as radiation, then possibly other treatments, such as chemotherapy, hormone therapy, or monoclonal antibody therapy, according to the woman’s cancer. When the tumour is too large to remove by surgery, chemotherapy may be used. This is to shrink the cancer so it can be more easily removed by surgery.

TNM is an international staging system

T = tumour (numbered 1 to 4 to indicate the size and extent of the tumour).

N = node (whether or not lymph nodes are affected by cancer).

M =metastases (the spread of cancer from the breast to other parts of the body).

Grading breast cancer

The pathologist (the doctor who looks at cancers in the laboratory) ‘grades’ the cancer according to the way the cancer cells look. The grades are numbered from 1 to 3.

The cells of a Grade 1 breast cancer look more like normal breast cells whereas the cells of a Grade 3 breast cancer look very abnormal, indicating a faster growing cancer.