Breast cancer comes in many different types, ranging from the very manageable to the very aggressive.
"Breast cancer" is talked about so much that it's easy to assume that all breast cancer cases are similar. In fact, breast cancer comes in many distinct types, some of which are much more serious than others. Here, we'll take a look at both common and less common types of breast cancer.
Ductal Carcinoma In Situ (DCIS)
The earliest form of breast cancer, ductal carcinoma in situ refers to the presence of cancerous cells within a milk duct. DCIS is considered to be non-invasive, meaning the cancer hasn't spread beyond the original site towards the rest of the breast or other parts of the body. Though DCIS isn't life-threatening, it can spread when it isn't treated.
Ductal carcinoma in situ is usually found during a routine mammogram or during a breast exam conducted for another reason. This form of breast cancer usually doesn't come with symptoms apparent to the patient, though some do notice a lump or bloody discharge from the nipple.
Breast-conserving surgery — a lumpectomy which removes only the cancerous tissues while saving the remaining part of the breast — is usually a very viable option. Women who undergo a lumpectomy are at a significantly higher risk of developing breast cancer again in the future (at about 25 to 30 percent), though also undergoing radiation therapy following surgery decreases the risk to about 15 percent.
Though the exact cause of DCIS is unclear, numerous factors increase a person's risk, notably the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genetic mutations, a personal history of breast disease, and a family history of breast cancer.
Invasive Ductal Carcinoma (IDC)
Invasive ductal carcinoma is the most common form of breast cancer — over 80 percent of all breast cancer cases fall into this category and around 180,000 are diagnosed with this form of breast cancer each year in the US alone. The term "invasive" means that this ductal carcinoma has spread to the surrounding breast tissue. This type of breast cancer becomes more common with age, and is also the type of breast cancer most likely to affect men.
As with DCIS, invasive ductal carcinoma may first be spotted on a mammogram. Unlike DCIS, this form of breast cancer may also be accompanied by symptoms you'll notice yourself. They include a lump in the armpit area, but also simply a feeling that the breast is heavier or more "full" in one particular area. A skin rash, breast and nipple pain, "orange peel" skin, a nipple that suddenly becomes inverted, and nipple discharge can all be symptoms as well.
People diagnosed with invasive ductal carcinoma will usually undergo surgery to remove the tumor to begin with. This can come in the form of a partial mastectomy, a simple mastectomy in which the whole breast is removed but that leaves the lymph nodes and underlying muscles intact, or a radical mastectomy in which some lymph nodes are removed along with the breast and muscular tissue. In some cases, a lumpectomy that only removes the tumor is also possible, though this increases the risk of recurrence.
If the cancer has spread to other parts of the body or the tumor is larger than a centimeter in diameter, chemotherapy and hormone therapy (when the cancer tests positive for hormone receptors) may be administered first in order to shrink the tumor and prepare for surgery. This chemotherapy will take between three and six months. When surgery comes first, radiation therapy follows. This can target the breast tissue from the outside, or be administered internally using a special device.
Tubular carcinoma, mucinous carcinoma of the breast, medullary carcinoma of the breast, invasive papillary carcinoma of the breast, and invasive cribriform carcinoma are all subtypes of IDC.