Treatment of Breast Cancer by Stage

The stage (extent) of your breast cancer is an important factor in making decisions about your treatment options. In general, the more the breast cancer has spread, the more treatment you will likely need. But other factors can also be important, such as:

  • If the cancer cells contain hormone receptors (that is, if the cancer is ER-positive or PR-positive)
  • If the cancer cells have large amounts of the HER2 protein (that is, if the cancer is HER2-positive)
  • Your overall health and personal preferences

Talk with your doctor about how these factors can affect your treatment options.

Stage 0

The treatment approaches for these non-invasive breast tumors are often different from the treatment of invasive breast cancer. Stage 0 breast tumors include:

Stages I to III

Treatment for stages I to III breast cancer usually includes surgery and radiation therapy, often along with chemo or other drug therapies either before or after surgery.

Stage I: These breast cancers are still relatively small and either have not spread to the lymph nodes or have only a tiny area of cancer spread in the sentinel lymph node (the first lymph node to which cancer is likely to spread).

Stage II: These breast cancers are larger than stage I cancers and/or have spread to a few nearby lymph nodes.

Stage III: In stage III breast cancer, the tumor is larger or is growing into nearby tissues (the skin over the breast or the muscle underneath), or the cancer has spread to many nearby lymph nodes.

Stage IV (advanced breast cancer)

Stage IV cancers have spread beyond the breast and nearby lymph nodes to other parts of the body. Treatment for stage IV breast cancer usually consists of systemic (drug) therapies.

Inflammatory breast cancer

Inflammatory breast cancer (IBC) can be either stage III or stage IV, depending on whether it has spread to other parts of the body. Treatment for IBC can include chemo or other systemic therapies, local therapies such as radiation, and surgery.

Recurrent breast cancer

Cancer is called recurrent when it comes back after treatment. Recurrence can be local (in the same breast or in the mastectomy scar), regional (in nearby lymph nodes), or in a distant area. Treatment for recurrent breast cancer  depends on where the cancer recurs and what treatments you’ve had before.

The American Cancer Society medical and editorial content team
Our team is made up of doctors and master’s-prepared nurses with deep knowledge of cancer care as well as journalists, editors, and translators with extensive experience in medical writing.

Morrow M, Burstein HJ, Harris JR. Chapter 79: Malignant Tumors of the Breast. In: DeVita VT, Lawrence TS, Rosenberg SA, eds. DeVita, Hellman, and Rosenberg’s Cancer: Principles and Practice of Oncology. 10th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins; 2015.

National Comprehensive Cancer Network (NCCN). Practice Guidelines in Oncology: Breast Cancer. Version 2.2016. Accessed at www.nccn.org on June 1, 2016.

Wolff AC, Domchek SM, Davidson NE, Sacchini V, McCormick B. Chapter 91: Cancer of the Breast. In: Niederhuber JE, Armitage JO, Doroshow JH, Kastan MB, Tepper JE, eds. Abeloff’s Clinical Oncology. 5th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Elsevier; 2014.

Last Medical Review: June 1, 2016 Last Revised: August 18, 2016

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