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Breast cancer staging and prognosis

Breast cancer staging describes how far the cancer has spread within the breast and other parts of the body. It is an important factor in making treatment decisions.

Breast cancer staging is based on tumour size and the extent that cancer has spread to other parts of the body. Your doctor will assign a stage to your cancer after your physical exam, mammogram, and other diagnostic tests, such as a biopsy (where the doctor removes tissue from the breast for further examination).

Breast cancer staging

Stages of breast cancer are numbered from 0 to IV:

Grading breast cancer

Tumour grade describes how active the cells are and how quickly the tumour is likely to spread. To determine tumour grade, a pathologist will study the tumour tissue removed during a biopsy under a microscope.


Grade 1 (low grade)Cancer cells look a little different to normal cells. These tumours are usually slow-growing.
Grade 2 (intermediate grade)Cancer cells do not look like normal cells. They tend to grow faster than grade 1 cancer cells.
Grade 3 (high grade)Cancers cells look very different from normal cells. They tend to grow and spread rapidly.


Prognosis of breast cancer

Prognosis refers to the probable or likely outcome of a disease (or the chance of recovery). Although tumour stage and grade are important, the physician will also take into account other considerations, such as whether certain molecular receptors are present, when determining a patient’s prognosis for breast cancer.

While it is not possible to predict the exact course of disease for any individual, survival rates for breast cancer have improved remarkably over time due to earlier detection and improved treatment methods. The five-year survival rate for breast cancer is currently 91%. Most patients with early or locally advanced breast cancer (Stages 0-III) can be treated successfully.

Research related to breast cancer classification and implications for clinical practice

Researcher: Dr. Sunil Lakhani, University of Queensland

Dr Lakhani recently published practice-changing findings that contributed to a new classification of a rare breast cancer, called metaplastic breast tumours, by the World Health Organisation. Learn more about his research here.