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NCI Dictionary of Cancer Terms

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NCI Dictionary of Cancer Terms



stage III breast cancer  listen  (... brest KAN-ser)

  Stage III is divided into stages IIIA, IIIB, and IIIC. In stage IIIA, (1) no tumor is found in the breast or the tumor may be any size. Cancer is found in 4 to 9 axillary lymph nodes or in the lymph nodes near the breastbone (found during imaging tests or a physical exam); or (2) the tumor is larger than 5 centimeters. Small clusters of breast cancer cells (larger than 0.2 millimeter but not larger than 2 millimeters) are found in the lymph nodes; or (3) the tumor is larger than 5 centimeters. Cancer has spread to 1 to 3 axillary lymph nodes or to the lymph nodes near the breastbone (found during a sentinel lymph node biopsy). In stage IIIB, the tumor may be any size and cancer has spread to the chest wall and/or to the skin of the breast and caused swelling or an ulcer. Also, cancer may have spread to: (1) up to 9 axillary lymph nodes; or (2) the lymph nodes near the breastbone. Cancer that has spread to the skin of the breast may also be inflammatory breast cancer. In stage IIIC, no tumor is found in the breast or the tumor may be any size. Cancer may have spread to the skin of the breast and caused swelling or an ulcer and/or has spread to the chest wall. Also, cancer has spread to: (1) 10 or more axillary lymph nodes; or (2) lymph nodes above or below the collarbone; or (3) axillary lymph nodes and lymph nodes near the breastbone. Cancer that has spread to the skin of the breast may also be inflammatory breast cancer. For treatment, stage IIIC breast cancer is divided into operable and inoperable stage IIIC.

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Stage IIIA breast cancer. The drawing on the left shows no tumor in the breast; cancer is found in 8 axillary lymph nodes. The drawing in the middle shows the tumor is larger than 5 cm and small clusters of cancer cells are in the lymph nodes. The drawing on the right shows the tumor is larger than 5 cm and cancer is in 3 axillary lymph nodes.
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Stage IIIB breast cancer. The drawing on the left is a cross section of the breast showing  that cancer has spread to the chest wall. The ribs, muscle, and fatty tissue are also shown. The drawing on the right shows the tumor has spread to the skin of the breast. An inset shows inflammatory breast cancer.
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Stage IIIC breast cancer. The drawing on the left shows cancer in lymph nodes in the axilla. The drawing in the middle shows cancer in lymph nodes above the collarbone. The drawing on the right shows cancer in lymph nodes in the axilla and in lymph nodes near the breastbone.