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What does it mean and will I be ok?

A diagnosis like breast cancer always prompts more questions. Technology has come a long way, you can still thrive and beat your diagnosis - learn as much as you can an empower yourself so you know what questions to ask and what the answers mean.

There are many factors that determine your prognosis:

  • size of the cancer

  • the type of breast cancer

  • whether or not your lymph nodes are involved

  • the cancer's hormone receptor status

  • how quickly it is growing

  • your age and menopausal status

  • your overall health and wellness

  • the likelihood of recurrence

Ask the important questions.

It is of the utmost importance that you can have an honest and open dialogue with your care team.

Things you need to know:

  • is this invasive cancer?

  • what type of cancer is this?

  • are there lymph nodes involved?

  • the cancer's hormone receptor status

  • when can I have genetic testing?

  • will I need chemotherapy, radiation therapy or endocrine therapy?

  • are there alternative treatments or clinical trials?

  • what is the standard of care for this type of cancer?

  • what if I choose to not have ________?

  • what if I choose to do nothing?

  • why do you recommend __________?

  • what are my other options?

TNM Staging


T - the size of the actual tumor.

Discussed below: cancer stages


N - if cancer has spread to the lymph nodes and how many lymph nodes are affected.


M - if the cancer has metastasized or spread beyond the breast tissues. 


Stage 0

Describes in situ carcinomas. Typically used when discussing DCIS. 

Cancer has not gone outside of the anatomical part where it began.

This cancer is confined still and is not invasive.

You might see this as "T0" or if "Tis" for Tumor In Situ.


Stage I

Cancer has managed to invade healthy tissue.

Stage IA:

Invasive cancer with a tumor still smaller than 2 cm and there is no lymph node involvement.

Stage IB:

Invasive cancer that shows no tumor in the breast but microscopic invasion of cancer in the lymph nodes. OR - 

There is a tumor smaller than 2 cm in the breast and microscopic invasion involving the lymph nodes. 


Stage II

Stage IIA:

There is no tumor in the breast but breast cancer is found in 1, 2, or 3 lymph nodes.


The tumor is still smaller than 2 cm but there is lymph node involvement.


The tumor size is between 2 cm and 5 cm, but no lymph nodes are involved. 


Stage IIB:

The tumor size is between 2 cm and 5 cm and there is microscopic invasion of the lymph nodes


The tumor size is between 2 cm and 5 cm and cancer has spread to 1, 2, or 3 lymph nodes.


The tumor size larger than 5 cm but no lymph node invasion has occurred.


Stage III

There are 3 subcategories for Stage III invasive breast cancer. 

Stage IIIA:

Tumors larger than 5 cm in size with 1, 2, or 3 lymph nodes involved 


Any size tumor with 4-9 lymph nodes involved.

Stage IIIB:

Tumor of any size in which the chest wall or the skin surface and up to 9 lymph nodes are involved. (normally how inflammatory breast cancer is classified.


Tumor over 5 cm and up to 9 lymph nodes are also involved. 

Stage IIIC:

Cancer of any size in which 10 or more lymph nodes have become involved.


Stage IV

Stage IV describes metastatic or advanced breast cancer in which breast cancer cells have spread to other parts of the body. 

Typically breast cancer spreads via the lymphatic system to other healthy organs and tissues. 

Breast cancer has a reputation of spreading to the lungs, liver, bone and brain but can also be found in other part of the body. 

Image by Jon Tyson

Grade 1/ Low Grade

Low grade cancers are slow growing, the cancer cells have not mutated in appearance too drastically yet. May also be classified as well differentiated and if this is your cell grade you have sometime to think before you act, your cancer is not going to change much or quickly. 

Image by Waldemar Brandt

Grade 2 / Intermediate or Moderate Grade

These cells are growing sometimes classified as moderately differentiated. They are dividing at a more rapid rate. They no longer resemble the healthy breast tissue cells around them. 

Image by Markus Spiske

Grade 3/ High Grade

These are poorly differentiated, these types of cancers are disorganized in appearance and tend to divide more rapidly in irregular patterns. While no one wants to hear they have high grade cancer, these types may respond well to targeted therapies designed to attach highly proliferating cells. 

Cell Grade

 Educational Resources


American Society of Breast Surgeons

Website with tons of valuable information that you breast surgeon would want you to know in an easy to manage and understand format.
Discussing benign issues as well as cancer, genetics, surgery and news. 
dr. love.jpg

Dr. Susan Love

Literally wrote the book on breasts!
The Dr. Susan Love Foundation for Breast Cancer Research performs and facilitates innovative and collaborative research while translating science to engage the public as informed partners.

Moose and Doc

A quirky and humorous site dedicated to helping you to understand screenings and diagnosis of both benign and malignant disease. 
Over 100 pages of information maintained by Canadian doctor, Dr. Hall.

Are You Dense?

The mission of Are You Dense, Inc. is to educate the public about the risks and screening challenges of dense breast tissue and its impact on missed, delayed and advanced stage breast cancer to reduce advanced disease and mortality.

Great collection of information in an easy to access and understand layout.

Discover resources about symptoms, treatment and day to day living. 


American Cancer Soceity

Whether you or a loved one are worried about developing breast cancer, have just been diagnosed, are going through breast cancer treatment, or are trying to stay well after treatment, this detailed information can help you find the answers you need.


Providing help and inspiring hope to those affected by breast cancer through early detection, education, and support services.

TNBC Foundation

A reliable source for patients diagnosed with triple negative breast cancer. 
Information about the disease and services to connect patients with clinical trials. 
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