Prognosis for stage 3 breast cancer

Updated February 21, 2017

According to the American Cancer Society, approximately 192,000 women will be diagnosed with invasive breast cancer during 2009. Approximately 62,000 will be diagnosed with carcinoma in situ (CIS), which is non-invasive breast cancer and the earliest form of breast cancer. Approximately 40,500 women will die from breast cancer during 2009. The death rate from breast cancer has declined significantly since 1990. There are approximately 2.5 million breast cancer survivors living in the United States today. Breast cancer is typically diagnosed in stages. Each stage signifies the extent of the disease and the options for treatment. Each stage also carries with it its own distinct prognosis.

Stages 0-2

Stage 0 is the earliest form of detection of breast cancer. Technically considered a precancerous state, it's diagnosis affirms that abnormal cells have been found in the breast duct lining. It carries a survival rate of five years and 95 per cent. Stage 1 indicates a cancerous tumour that is 2 cm in size or smaller. Stage 1 cancer has not spread beyond the breast. The five-year survival rate for this stage is 88 per cent. Stage 2 cancer is broken into two types. Stage 2A indicates the presence of a cancerous tumour that is 2 cm or smaller but has spread to the axillary lymph nodes. Stage 2B indicates a tumour between 2 and 5 cm in size that has not spread to the lymph nodes.

Stage 3

Once a patient has reached Stage 3 breast cancer, the odds start to decline at a far more rapid rate. There are distinct levels of severity within Stage 3 breast cancer. These levels are divided into three separate categories.

Stage 3A

When receiving a diagnosis of Stage 3A breast cancer, a woman likely has a tumour that measures up to 5 cm in diameter. In addition, the cancer has spread to the lymph nodes in the armpit. The cancer in the lymph nodes has likely joined together and/or is attached to other structures within the breast, armpit and collarbone region. Another diagnosis garnering a Stage 3A diagnosis includes a tumour that is larger than 5 cm but has spread only to the lymph nodes in the armpits. Stage 3A breast cancer carries with it a five-year survival rate of 51 to 56 per cent.

Stage 3B

A diagnosis of Stage 3B breast cancer indicates the presence of a tumour of about 5 cm that has spread to tissues that may include the skin, chest wall, chest muscles and ribs. It may also indicate that the cancer has spread to the lymph nodes along the breast bone inside of the chest. Stage 3B breast cancer has a prognosis of a five-year survival rate at 42 to 49 per cent.

Stage 3C

Stage 3C breast cancer is broken into two distinct categories: operable and inoperable. A diagnosis of Stage 3C breast cancer means the cancer has spread to lymph nodes found beneath the collarbone and in the area of the neck. This is categorised as operable. It may also have spread to the lymph nodes located within the breast itself, as well as underneath the arm and in tissues that are near the breast region. This may be categorised as inoperable. Overall, a diagnosis of Stage 3C breast cancer has a five-year prognosis of only a 35 per cent survival rate.


Regardless of the alarm felt when receiving a Stage 3 breast cancer diagnosis, it is important to look at the statistics from the past 10 years, which indicate quite clearly that the survival rate for women with breast cancer has risen by at least 50 per cent. Research is constantly evolving. More than 2 million breast cancer survivors in this country alone can attest to that fact.

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About the Author

Kimberly Ripley is a freelance writer and published author from Portsmouth, N.H. She has authored five books and hundreds of articles and short stories. Her work has appeared various publications, including "Parenting," "Writer’s Digest," "Vacations" and "Discovery Travel." She studied at the University of Maine and later pursued her writing studies through numerous classes and workshops.