OurTNBC - lazy

What are the stages of triple
negative breast cancer?

The stage of breast cancer is a way of describing how big the breast cancer is and which parts of the body are affected.1

The stage of the cancer helps you and your doctor:

  • Figure out the likely outcome of breast cancer treatment (your prognosis)
  • Decide on the best treatment options for you
  • Determine if certain clinical trials may be a good option for you

The number staging system divides breast cancers into 4 main stages, from 1 to 4. (There is also a stage 0, which refers to ‘pre-invasive’ breast cancer such as ductal carcinoma in situ or DCIS)

Stage 0 refers to ‘pre-invasive’ breast cancer such as ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS) or lobular carcinoma in situ (LCIS)

Stage I, Stage IIA and Stage IIB (early) refer to early breast cancer

Stage IIB (advanced), Stage IIIA, Stage IIIB, Stage IIIC and Stage IV refer to advanced breast cancer (locally advanced breast cancer or metastatic breast cancer).

How quickly does triple-negative breast cancer progress?

Triple-negative breast cancer (TNBC) is considered an aggressive cancer because it grows quickly, is more likely to have spread at the time it’s found, and is more likely to come back after treatment than other types of breast cancer.2

Keep in mind that this information is based on previous outcomes of large numbers of people who had a specific cancer, but they can’t predict what will happen in any particular person’s case.

Information on TNBC can be confusing and may lead you to have more questions. Talk with your doctor using questions from our TNBC Patient Discussion Guide to become more familiar with your specific situation.

OurTNBC - lazy
OurTNBC - lazy

What does breast cancer grade mean?

The grade describes how cancer cells look under the microscope and whether they are similar or very different to normal cells.3

Low grade (grade 1)
The cells look similar to normal breast cells and are slow growing. These cancers tend to grow and spread slowly and have a good outlook (prognosis).

Intermediate grade (grade 2)
The cells look quite different to normal breast cells. This means the features and outlook (prognosis) are somewhere between well and poor.

High grade (grade 3)
The cells look very different to normal breast cells, are faster growing, and have abnormal features. They tend to grow and spread more quickly and have a worse outlook (prognosis).

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Glossary of Key Terms

These are explanations of terms that medical professionals and others may use when discussing your TNBC.

Advanced breast cancer

A commonly used term for secondary, metastatic or stage 4 breast cancer

Adjuvant therapy/treatment

Treatment (e.g. chemotherapy) given after surgery.


Hair loss


The area around the nipple

Axillary dissection/clearance

The removal of some or all of the lymph nodes from the armpit to see if the breast cancer has spread beyond the breast.


Not cancerous


The removal of cells or tissue from the body to see if they are cancer cells


Women with a fault, or mutation, in one of these genes have a higher than normal chance of developing breast or ovarian cancer

Breast conserving surgery

Surgery to remove breast cancer and a small area of healthy tissue around the cancer. Also known as lumpectomy.


Treatment for cancer using drugs

Clinical trials

Studies involving patients to see if a new treatment is better than an existing one

Complementary medicines

Complementary medicines are products that are used in addition to conventional medical treatments (e.g. chemotherapy and hormone therapies). Complementary medicines include vitamin and mineral supplements, such as fish oil capsules or vitamin D tablets, and herbal medicines.

Complementary therapies

Complementary therapies are practices that are used in addition to conventional medical treatments (e.g. chemotherapy and hormone therapies).Some examples of complementary therapies often used by women with breast cancer include massage, yoga, acupuncture and reflexology.

Double mastectomy

Removal of both breasts during breast cancer surgery

Ductal Carcinoma In Situ (DCIS)

Non-invasive breast cancer confined to the ducts of the breast

Early breast cancer

Breast cancer that has not spread beyond the breast or lymph nodes under the arm

Early menopause

Menopause occurring in women under 45 years of age. Early menopause is often a side effect of some common treatments for breast cancer.

Lymph nodes

Glands in the armpit and other parts of the body that filter and drain lymph fluid, trapping bacteria, cancer cells and any other particles that could be harmful to the body


A condition that sometimes develops when lymph nodes have been removed during breast cancer surgery and the lymph fluid no longer drains freely, causing swelling in the arm, hand or breast


Another name for breast conserving surgery


The removal of the whole breast during breast cancer surgery

Metastatic breast cancer

Another term for secondary, advanced, or stage 4 breast cancer

Multidisciplinary Team

Often abbreviated to MDT. A team of health professionals who work together to manage a patient’s treatment and care

Neoadjuvant chemotherapy

Chemotherapy treatment given before breast cancer surgery (sometimes used to reduce the size of the tumour to make it easier for the surgeon to operate)


A type of female hormone

Partial mastectomy

Another term for breast conserving surgery

PBS (Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme)

A scheme funded by the Australian Government to subsidise the cost of certain drugs for eligible consumers


A type of female hormone


Treatment for cancer using X-rays that target a particular area of the body

Secondary breast cancer

Breast cancer that has spread from the breast to other, more distant parts of the body, most commonly the bones, lungs, liver and sometimes the brain. Also known as advanced, metastatic, or stage 4 breast cancer.

Sentinel node biopsy

identification and removal of the first lymph node to which the breast cancer may have spread for testing by a pathologist


Fluid that collects in or around a scar after surgery

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