You and your doctor need to know the type of breast cancer you have to get the best outcome. Your treatment will depend on where your cancer started, whether it has invaded other breast tissue or spread to other parts of your body, and whether hormones like estrogen or progesterone fuel its growth, among other factors.
here are many types of breast cancer. The most common types are ductal carcinoma in situ, invasive ductal carcinoma, and invasive lobular carcinoma.
The type of breast cancer is determined by the specific cells in the breast that are affected. Most breast cancers are carcinomas. Carcinomas are tumors that start in the epithelial cells that line organs and tissues throughout the body. Sometimes, an even more specific term is used. For example, most breast cancers are a type of carcinoma called adenocarcinoma, which starts in cells that make up glands (glandular tissue). Breast adenocarcinomas start in the ducts (the milk ducts) or the lobules (milk-producing glands).
There are other, less common, types of breast cancers, too, such as sarcomas, phyllodes, Paget disease, and angiosarcomas which start in the cells of the muscle, fat, or connective tissue.
Sometimes a single breast tumor can be a combination of different types. And in some very rare types of breast cancer, the cancer cells may not form a lump or tumor at all.
When a biopsy is done to find out the specific type of breast cancer, the pathologist will also check if the cancer has spread into the surrounding tissues.
The following terms are used to describe the extent of the cancer:
- In situ breast cancers have not spread.
- Invasive or infiltrating cancers have spread (invaded) into the surrounding breast tissue.
Common kinds of breast cancer
The most common kinds of breast cancer are carcinomas, and are named based on where they form and how far they have spread.
These general kinds of breast cancer below can be further described with the terms outlined above.
In situ cancers
Ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS; also known as intraductal carcinoma) is a non-invasive or pre-invasive breast cancer. See Ductal Carcinoma in Situ (DCIS) for more information.
Lobular carcinoma in situ (LCIS) may also be called lobular neoplasia. This breast change is not a cancer, though the name can be confusing. In LCIS, cells that look like cancer cells are growing in the lobules of the milk-producing glands of the breast, but they don’t grow through the wall of the lobules. See Lobular Carcinoma in Situ (LCIS) for more information.
Invasive (infiltrating) breast cancer
Breast cancers that have spread into surrounding breast tissue are known as invasive breast cancer. There are many different kinds of invasive breast cancer, but the most common are called invasive ductal carcinoma and invasive lobular carcinoma. See Invasive Breast Cancer for more information.
Most breast cancers are carcinomas, or cancers that start in cells lining the organs or tissues. “In situ” breast cancers haven’t spread to surrounding tissue, which makes them more treatable, while “invasive” breast cancers have invaded surrounding tissue. “Metastatic” breast cancer means it has spread to other parts of your body, such as the lungs, bones, liver, or brain. And “recurrent” breast cancer means breast cancer has returned.
More Type Of Breast Cancer
Ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS)
This highly treatable pre-cancer (sometimes called “stage 0” breast cancer) starts in a milk duct. It’s the most common type of non-invasive breast cancer, meaning the cells are abnormal but haven’t spread to the surrounding tissue. Over time, DCIS may progress to invasive breast cancer.
Invasive ductal carcinoma (IDC)
This is the most common breast cancer, accounting for 80% of all invasive breast cancer diagnoses. Also called “infiltrating ductal carcinoma,” IDC starts in a milk duct, breaks through the duct wall, and invades the surrounding breast tissue. It can spread to other parts of the body as well. There are also several subtypes of IDC, which are categorized based on features of the tumors that form.
Invasive lobular carcinoma (ILC)
This type of breast cancer begins in the milk-producing glands, called lobules. Also known as “infiltrating lobular carcinoma,” ILC can spread beyond the lobules into surrounding breast tissue and metastasize to other parts of the body. It accounts for about 10% of invasive breast cancers.
Lobular carcinoma in situ (LCIS)
LCIS, also called lobular neoplasia, starts in the milk-producing lobules. Technically, it’s not breast cancer (even though it has carcinoma in its name), but rather a collection of abnormal cells. People with LCIS are more likely to develop breast cancer in the future.
Inflammatory breast cancer (IBC)
This rare, aggressive type of breast cancer causes redness and swelling of the breast. The affected breast can feel warm, heavy, and tender. The skin may become hard or ridged like an orange rind. See a doctor right away if you have these symptoms. Inflammatory breast cancer tends to strike five years earlier, on average, than other types of breast cancer, and it might not show up on a mammogram. African American women are at greater risk for IBC than white women.
Paget disease of the breast (or the nipple)
This rare cancer affects the skin of the nipple and the darker circle of skin, called the areola, surrounding it. People with Paget disease may notice the nipple and areola becoming scaly, red, or itchy. They may also notice yellow or bloody discharge coming from the nipple. Most people who have this condition also have one or more tumors (either DCIS or invasive cancer) in the same breast.
Metaplastic breast cancer
This rare, invasive breast cancer begins in a milk duct and forms large tumors. It may contain a mix of cells that look different than typical breast cancers and can be more difficult to diagnose.
Angiosarcoma of the breast
This quickly growing cancer is rare. It is usually a complication of a prior radiation treatment of the breast.
Breast cancer subtypes
Breast cancers can also be classified by their genetic makeup. Knowing your cancer’s hormone receptor and HER2 status can help guide treatment.
Hormone receptor positive breast cancer
Some breast cancers are fueled by the hormones estrogen and/or progesterone. Some are not. Knowing whether your cancer is sensitive to these hormones is a crucial piece of the treatment equation. Hormone receptor-positive breast cancer cells have proteins called hormone receptors that attach to estrogen and/or progesterone circulating in your body. Hormonal therapies may be used to fight hormone receptor-positive breast cancer. All invasive breast cancers and DCIS should be tested for hormone status, according to the ACS.
HER2-positive breast cancer
Some breast cancers have higher levels of a protein that promotes cancer growth called human epidermal growth factor receptor 2 (HER2). Using certain medicines that target HER2 can help kill the cancer.
Triple negative breast cancer
Triple negative breast cancer is estrogen receptor-negative, progesterone receptor-negative, and HER2-negative. Using hormone therapies or HER2 drugs will not slow these aggressive cancers. Triple negative breast cancer is more common among Hispanic and African American women, as well as younger women.
Triple positive breast cancer
Cancers that are positive for estrogen receptors, progesterone receptors, and HER2 can be treated with hormone therapies and drugs that target HER2.
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