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Stage 2 Breast Cancer - A Primer on Stage 2 Breast Cancer - Distinction from Other Stages, Sub-Categories: Stages IIA and IIB

Distinction, Treatment, and Survivability

therapy neoadjuvant lymph treatment

Stage 2 breast cancer is the middle ground in breast cancer diagnosis. This stage itself is divided into two sub-categories known as IIA and IIB. Treatments for stage 2 breast cancer include local therapy, adjuvant therapy, and neoadjuvant therapy. The likelihood of surviving stage 2 breast cancer is fairly high.

Distinction from Other Stages

Stage 1 describes small, isolated clusters of cancerous cells, while stage 3 describes advanced but still isolated cancer. Stage 4 is the worst stage, describing breast cancer which has metastasized (spread) to other parts of the body.

Stage 1 is a non-fatal condition, only dangerous insofar as its ability to grow worse if left unchecked. Stage 2 breast cancer marks the threshold where fatalities become possible. More on survival rates will appear in a later section of this article.

Sub-Categories: Stages IIA and IIB

Breast cancer is closely related to the axillary lymph nodes. Located under the armpit and around the collarbone, these lymph nodes are filters for the lymph system, making them a frequent second stop for breast cancer cells. Due to this relationship between lymph nodes and breast cancer, they are an important variable in determining the severity of breast cancer.

Stage 2 breast cancer is divided into two subcategories: stage IIA and stage IIB. Stage IIA, the less severe of the two, features a primary tumor of less than 5 cm or a primary tumor of less than 2 cm plus spread to the axillary lymph nodes. Stage IIB describes tumors larger than 5 cm or tumors between 2 and 5 cm with axillary lymph node spreading.


Stage 2 breast cancer is treated in three ways: local therapy, adjuvant therapy, and neoadjuvant therapy.

Local therapy treats only the affected area. It often begins with surgery and continues with targeted radiation. In most cases, local therapy is the initial treatment offered by an oncologist.

Advjuvant and neoadjuvant therapies are drug-based, commonly referred to as chemotherapy or “chemo.”

Neoadjuvant therapy is a preparatory therapy designed to reduce swelling in tumors and surrounding tissue for the purposes of study and treatment. It is given prior to other treatments.

Adjuvant therapy is a drug-based, system-wide treatment commonly referred to as “chemo.” Unlike neoadjuvant therapy, adjuvant therapy is given after a treatment to destroy the last traces of cancerous tissue and limit the possibility of relapse.

Chemotherapy—both neoadjuvant and adjuvant—is highly toxic. Its symptoms include nausea, vomiting, hair loss, and oral mucositis. Oral mucositis affects roughly 10% of patients undergoing cancer treatment and usually consists of thin, yellowish sores peeling on the inside of the mouth. The symptom is generally treatable through oral hygiene and vitamin supplements but occasionally results in infection.


As mentioned, stage 1 breast cancer has a 100% five-year survival rate. The second stage is marked by the possibility of death, though not nearly to the point of later stages.

According to the American Cancer Society, Stage IIA has a 92% likelihood of five-year survival, while stage IIB has an 81% likelihood. Stage 3 ranges from 54% to 67%, while stage 4—the point of metastasization—is characterized by a 1 in 5 chance of survival. Thus, stage 2 breast cancer describes a point where the cancer has become life-threatening.

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