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Types of Breast Cancer and What They Mean


Chris Iliades, MD

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This content is created or selected by the Healthgrades editorial team and is funded by an advertising sponsor. The content is subject to the Healthgrades medical review process for accuracy, balance and objectivity. The content is not edited or otherwise influenced by the advertisers appearing on this page except with the possible suggestion of the broad topic area. For more information, read the HealthGrades advertising policy.

Model of Woman Breast

There's not just one type of breast cancer. There are many different types, but a few are more common than others. It's important to know the type of breast cancer you have.

That's a big factor in determining the type of treatment that will be best for you.

Most Common Types

The most common types of breast cancer start in a lobule or a duct. Lobules are glands in the breast that produce milk. Ducts are like tubes that carry the milk to the nipple. 

Revolutionary treatments have increased the life expectancy rates for breast cancer patients. Watch this video for more breast cancer facts.

Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS Last Review Date: May 12, 2017

2017 Healthgrades Operating Company, Inc. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced or reprinted without permission from Healthgrades Operating Company, Inc. Use of this information is governed by the Healthgrades User Agreement.

Ductal carcinoma is the most common. The word “carcinoma” means cancer that starts in cells that form linings. These are epithelial cells. Ductal carcinoma starts in the epithelial cells that line the milk ducts. There are two types: 

  • Ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS). This is breast cancer that's only in the duct lining. Some types of DCIS progress and spread to other areas. Other types don't. It's impossible to predict the course of DCIS. However, it's almost always curable. Treatment may include breast-conserving surgery followed by radiation.

  • Invasive ductal carcinoma. This is cancer that started in a duct and has broken through the duct wall to involve other breast tissues. This cancer can spread (metastasize) beyond the breast. Treatment of invasive breast cancer depends on the stage of the cancer. That refers to how big the cancer is and how far it has spread. Treatment may include surgery, radiation or drugs (such as chemotherapy, hormone therapy, or targeted therapy), or a combination of treatments.

Lobular carcinoma starts in the glands of the breast that produce milk. Just as with ductal carcinoma, there are two types:

  • Lobular carcinoma in situ (LCIS). With LCIS, cancer-like cells are only in the lining of a lobule. LCIS is not actually considered "breast cancer" because it doesn't spread. But, it increases the odds of developing invasive cancer in either breast. Because LCIS itself usually does not become invasive, you may not need treatment. Instead, you'll need more frequent checks for invasive breast cancer. You may also take medication to reduce your risk of developing invasive breast cancer.

  • Invasive lobular carcinoma. This cancer starts in a lobule and can spread beyond it. Treatment depends on the stage.

Less Common Types

Less common types of breast cancer may behave differently than ductal or lobular breast cancers. They may need different treatments. The most common of these uncommon types are:

Inflammatory breast cancer. This usually starts as invasive ductal cancer. Cancer cells spread to lymph vessels near the skin. These are tiny channels that carry a clear fluid called lymph. This type of cancer causes swelling of the breast. It may burn and feel heavy. The skin of your breast may become thick and pitted, like the skin of an orange. Treatment for inflammatory breast cancer usually starts with chemotherapy, followed by surgery and radiation.

Paget’s disease of the nipple. This starts in a duct but spreads to the nipple. The nipple may bleed. The dark circle of skin around the nipple (areola) may become red and scaly. Treatment usually includes surgery to remove the breast. 

More rare types of breast cancer include those that start in blood vessels of the breast or in the tissue that holds the breast together, called connective tissue. There are also different subtypes within each of these. 

Once doctors suspect breast cancer or find something abnormal on a mammogram or other screening or exam, they perform a series of tests and procedures to determine the specific type, subtype and stage of breast cancer. Doctors tailor breast cancer treatment for each patient depending on the type and stage of breast cancer. Talk with your doctor about your type of breast cancer and about the best options for treatment.

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Medical Reviewers: Judy Mouchawar, MD, MSPH Last Review Date: Jan 20, 2016

© 2017 Healthgrades Operating Company, Inc. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced or reprinted without permission from Healthgrades Operating Company, Inc. Use of this information is governed by the Healthgrades User Agreement.

View Sources

Medical References

  1. Types of Breast Cancer. American Cancer Society.
  2. Are There Different Kinds of Breast Cancer? Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
  3. Treatment of Ductal Carcinoma In Situ. American Cancer Society.
  4. Treatment of Invasive Breast Cancer by Stage. American Cancer Society,
  5. Treatment of Lobular Carcinoma In Situ. American Cancer Society.
  6. What Is Inflammatory Breast Cancer? National Cancer Institute. 
  7. Lobular Carcinoma In Situ. American Cancer Society.

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