Stages and grades of breast cancer

The tests and scans you have to diagnose breast cancer give information about:

  • the size of the cancer and whether it has spread (the stage)
  • how abnormal the cells look under the microscope (the grade)

Knowing the stage and grade helps your doctor plan your treatment. 

There are different systems used in the UK to stage breast cancer. The most common one is the TNM system. TNM stands for Tumour, Node and Metastasis. You might also be told about the number staging system. There are 4 main stages in this system, from 1 to 4. 

The tests you have also give information about the type of breast cancer you have.

About breast cancer staging and grades

The stage tells you how big your cancer is and whether it has spread. The grade means how abnormal the cells look under a microscope.

TNM staging for breast cancer

The TNM system is a way of staging breast cancer. TNM stands for Tumour, Node, Metastasis.

Stage 1 breast cancer

Stage 1 breast cancer means that the cancer is small and only in the breast tissue, or it might be found in lymph nodes close to the breast. 

Stage 2 breast cancer

Stage 2 breast cancer means that the cancer is either in the breast or in the nearby lymph nodes or both. It is an early stage breast cancer.

Stage 3 breast cancer

Stage 3 means that the cancer has spread from the breast to the lymph nodes close to the breast, the skin of the breast or to the chest wall.

Stage 4 breast cancer

Stage 4 breast cancer means that the cancer has spread to other parts of the body such as the bones and lungs.

Last reviewed: 
10 May 2023
Next review due: 
10 May 2026
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