Understanding breast cancer

Did you know our bodies are constantly growing and replacing cells? The cell growth cycle works on autopilot to produce healthy cells, but sometimes certain genes can mutate. If that happens, cells may grow out of control and form a tumor. Those tumors can either be noncancerous or cancerous. If a cancerous tumor grows in breast tissue, it’s called breast cancer. While statistics suggest that 1 in 8 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer, the rates of diagnosis and death continue to decrease.1 Better screening, early detection and increased awareness have all played their part to help bring those numbers down.1 Thinking about the possibility of getting breast cancer may be scary, but the more knowledge you have, the better chances you may have for catching potential cancers early and making informed decisions about your health.

What are the types of breast cancer?

Knowing your type of breast cancer is important for deciding which treatment option might work best. Where the cancer starts and if it has spread are two factors that may help determine which kind it is. The two main categories of breast cancer are invasive (cancer that has spread to nearby tissues outside the breast) and noninvasive (cancer that stays within the breast tissue). Here’s a list of the most common types of breast cancer:2

Invasive breast cancers

  • Invasive ductal carcinoma: Starts in a milk duct and grows into other parts of the breast (and perhaps other parts of the body). This is the most common type of breast cancer.
  • Invasive lobular carcinoma: Starts in the lobules and spreads to nearby tissues (and perhaps other parts of the body). This is the second most common type.
  • Inflammatory breast cancer: Starts in the ducts or lobules and spreads faster than other types of breast cancer. It can cause redness and swelling on the surface of the breast — and could be mistaken for a breast infection.
  • Paget’s disease of the breast: Starts in the skin of the nipple and areola, and causes tumor cells called Paget cells. (This type is less common.)
  • Angiosarcoma of the breast: Starts in the lining of lymph or blood vessels. This type is rare and aggressive, and it's most common in people over 70. Complications from radiation therapy to the breast can be the cause.
  • Phyllodes tumor: Starts in the connective breast tissue. This rare tumor is most often found in women in their 40s. People with a certain genetic condition called Li-Fraumeni syndrome may be at a higher risk.

Noninvasive (in situ) breast cancers

  • Ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS): Starts in a duct and stays within the breast tissue. This type of breast cancer makes up about 20% of newly diagnosed cases.
  • Lobular carcinoma in situ (LCIS): This is when abnormal cells grow inside the lobules and stay there without spreading. These clumps of cells may not be cancerous, but they do increase your chance of invasive breast cancer, so you and your care team should keep a close eye on it.

Who should I see if I’m concerned about breast cancer?

If you found a suspicious lump near your breast or you have other concerns about your risk level, visit your primary care provider (the doctor or provider you might see for your yearly exam). Bring a list of your symptoms, health history and questions. If you’ve had screenings done in the past, like a mammogram, have those images sent to your primary clinic before your appointment. Depending on how your conversation goes, your doctor may order more imaging tests, or refer you to a breast cancer specialist.

Footnotes

  1. Breast Cancer Facts nationalbreastcancer.org, 2020.
  2. Types of Breast Cancer  cancercenter.com, 2021. 
  3. Biopsy nationalbreastcancer.org, 2020.
  4. Breast Cancer Symptoms and Early Warning Signs  webmd.com, 2020. 
  5. Breast cancer- Symptoms and causes mayoclinic.org, 2020. 
  6. Breast Cancer Risk Factors: Family History breastcancer.org, 2021.
  7. Treatments for Breaset Cancer webmd.com, 2021.