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.

The stage of a cancer tells you how big it is and how far it has spread. It helps your doctor decide the best treatment for you. There are different systems used in the UK to stage breast cancer. Stage 2 is part of the number staging system. Doctors may also use the TNM staging system.  

Staging for breast cancer is very complex. Many different factors are considered before doctors can confirm your final stage. Speak to your doctor or breast cancer nurse specialist if you have any questions about your staging.

Stage 2 can be divided into 2A and 2B. Below is a simplified description of stage 2A and 2B breast cancer. 

Stage 2A

Stage 2A means one of the following:

  • no cancer is found in the breast or the breast cancer is 2 centimetres (cm) or less, and cancer cells are found in 1 to 3 lymph nodes Open a glossary item in the armpit or in the lymph nodes near the breastbone
Diagram 1 of 2 showing stage 2A breast cancer
  • the cancer is larger than 2 cm but not larger than 5 cm and there is no cancer in the lymph nodes
Diagram 2 of 2 showing stage 2A breast cancer

Stage 2B

Stage 2B means one of the following

  • the cancer is larger than 2 cm but not larger than 5 cm and there are small areas of cancer cells in the lymph nodes
Diagram 1 of 3 showing stage 2B breast cancer
  • the cancer is larger than 2 cm but not larger than 5 cm and the cancer has spread to 1 to 3 lymph nodes in the armpit or to the lymph nodes near the breastbone
Diagram 2 of 3 showing stage 2B breast cancer
  • the cancer is larger than 5cm and hasn't spread to the lymph nodes
Diagram 3 of 3 showing stage 2B breast cancer

TNM stages

TNM stands for Tumour (T), Node (N) and Metastasis (M). The staging is different depending on the type of bile duct cancer you have.

The information below is an overview of the TNM staging for all types of bile duct cancer.

  • T describes the size of the tumour (cancer)
  • N describes whether there are any cancer cells in the nearby lymph nodes
  • M describes whether the cancer has spread to parts of the body further away from the bile ducts

The doctor gives each factor (T, N and M) a number. The number depends on how far the cancer has grown or spread.

So, a very small cancer which hasn't spread to the lymph nodes or elsewhere in the body may be T1 N0 M0.

A larger cancer that has spread into the nearby lymph nodes and to another part of the body may be T3 N1 M1.

In the TNM staging system, stage 2A breast cancer is the same as:

  • T0 N1 M0
  • T1 N1 M0
  • T2 N0 M0

Stage 2B is the same as:

  • T2 N1 M0
  • T3 N0 M0


The number staging helps your doctor decide which treatment you need. Treatment also depends on:

  • the type of cells the cancer started in
  • whether your cancer cells have receptors for particular cancer drugs
  • the grade of the cancer 
  • whether you have had the menopause Open a glossary item  
  • other health conditions you may have

Your doctor will take many different factors into account when deciding which treatment is best for you.

Surgery is usually one of the main treatments for stage 2 breast cancer. You may also have drug treatments such as chemotherapy and hormone therapy as a first treatment. This is called neo adjuvant treatment. You then have surgery.   


Your surgeon might remove the cancer and a border of normal breast tissue. This is called breast conserving surgery or a wide local excision. After breast conserving surgery, you might have radiotherapy to the rest of the breast.

Or you might have the whole breast removed. This is called a mastectomy. You can then choose to have a new breast made (breast reconstruction). You might also have radiotherapy to the chest wall after having a mastectomy.

Checking the lymph nodes

Before your surgery, you have an ultrasound scan to check the lymph nodes in the armpit (axilla). This is to see if they contain cancer cells. If breast cancer spreads, it usually first spreads to the lymph nodes close to the breast.

Depending on the results of your scan you might have:

  • a sentinel lymph node Open a glossary item biopsy during your breast cancer operation
  • surgery to remove the lymph nodes under your arm

Other treatments you might have

You usually have other treatments too. These include:

  • hormone therapy
  • chemotherapy
  • targeted cancer drugs 
  • drugs that strengthen the bones called bisphosphonates 

Other stages of breast cancer

  • AJCC Cancer Staging Manual (8th edition)
    American Joint Committee on Cancer
    Springer, 2017

  • TNM Classification of Malignant Tumours (8th edition)
    Union for International Cancer Control
    J Brierley, M Gospodarowicz and C Wittekind   
    Wiley Blackwell 2017

  • Early and locally advanced breast cancer: diagnosis and management
    National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), 2018. Last updated April 2023

  • Early Breast Cancer: ESMO Clinical Practice Guidelines for diagnosis, treatment and follow-up
    F Cardoso and others
    Annals of Oncology, 2019. Volume 30, Issue 8, Pages 1194–1220

  • Cancer: Principles and Practice of Oncology (12th edition)
    VT DeVita, TS Lawrence, SA Rosenberg
    Wolters Kluwer, 2023

  • The information on this page is based on literature searches and specialist checking. We used many references and there are too many to list here. Please contact with details of the particular issue you are interested in if you need additional references for this information.

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

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