Inflammatory Breast Cancer

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Staging of inflammatory breast cancer

Staging is the process of finding out how widespread a cancer is when it is diagnosed. For breast cancer, staging takes into account certain factors:

  • Characteristics of the breast tumor, or T stage
  • Spread to nearby lymph nodes, or N stage
  • Spread to distant organs and tissues (like the bones or lungs), or M stage

These factors are taken together to make the overall stage of the cancer, which can range from I to IV for breast cancer.

Stages of inflammatory breast cancer

The T stage of a breast cancer can range from T1 to T4, but all inflammatory breast cancers are T4.

N stages range from N1 to N3.The clinical N stage is based on the presence of cancer in lymph nodes on the same side as the breast cancer under the arm (called axillary lymph nodes), around the collarbone (called supraclavicular or infraclavicular lymph nodes), or inside the chest (called internal mammary lymph nodes).

M stages are M0 and M1. If the cancer has not spread outside the breast and nearby lymph nodes it is M0. If the cancer has spread it is M1.

Overall stage

Inflammatory breast cancer that has spread outside of the breast and nearby lymph nodes is stage IV.

All other inflammatory breast cancers are stage III. If the cancer has spread to lymph nodes around the collarbone or inside the chest, it is stage IIIC. Otherwise, it is stage IIIB.

More information about staging of breast cancer can be found in the staging section of our document Breast Cancer.

Last Medical Review: 08/28/2014
Last Revised: 06/10/2015