Sarah Cannon - October 28, 2015

There are a wide range of treatments for breast cancer. You and your cancer care team will determine the type of treatment or combination of treatments appropriate for you in your cancer journey by your type and stage of breast cancer.

If you or someone you know is diagnosed with breast cancer, you will likely be treated with one or more of the common treatments below. Learn more about these treatments.

Types, Grades and Stages of Breast Cancer

Breast cancer patients can receive up to three different classifications for their breast cancer: type, grade and stage. It is important to know your specific diagnosis so you can better understand your treatment plan.

There are two main types of breast cancer, which differ in their points of origin in the breast.

  • Ductal carcinoma - begins in the cells that line the milk ducts in the breast, also called the lining of the breast ducts
  • Lobular carcinoma - begins in the lobes, or lobules (the glands that make milk) of the breast

Breast cancer grades refer to how close the biopsy sample looks to normal breast tissue and how rapidly the cancer cells are dividing. The lower the number, the slower the cancer is growing, making it less likely to spread.

Staging identifies if the cancer has spread within the breast or to other parts of the body.

  • Stage 0 (ductal carcinoma in situ or DCIS) - has not spread beyond the actual tumor. Learn more about DCIS diagnosis and treatment from Dr. Erika Hamilton, Associate Director of the Breast Cancer and Gynecologic Cancer Research Program at Sarah Cannon here .
  • Stage I - determined by size (2 centimeters or smaller) and/or whether the cancer has spread to lymph nodes
  • Stage II - determined by size (larger than 2 centimeters but not larger than 5 centimeters) and/or whether it has spread to lymph nodes; stage IIB refers to a tumor larger than 5 centimeters but has no presence in the lymph nodes
  • Stage III - based on size (larger than 5 centimeters) and/or whether it has spread to lymph nodes, chest wall and/or to the skin of the breast
  • Stage IV - cancer has spread to other organs of the body, most often the bones, lungs, liver or brain

Breast cancer is also classified by whether the cancer has estrogen receptors (ER) , progesterone receptors (PR) and/or a growth-promoting protein called HER2/neu .

For more information on breast cancer, visit the Sarah Cannon patient education portal .


American Cancer Society

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

National Cancer Institute