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What are the different types of breast cancer?

There are many different types of breast cancer. The different kinds of breast cancer that involve the lobes, lobules and/or ducts are:

  • Ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS)
  • Invasive ductal cancer
  • Invasive lobular carcinoma

Less common types of breast cancer are:

  • Mucinous carcinoma (colloid carcinoma)
  • Medullary carcinoma
  • Tubular carcinoma
  • Paget's disease
  • Inflammatory carcinoma
  • Triple-negative breast cancer
  • Metaplastic carcinoma
  • Papillary carcinoma
  • Mixed tumors
  • Adenoid cystic carcinoma (adenocystic carcinoma)

There are several types of breast cancer, although some of them are quite rare. In some cases a single breast tumor can have a combination of these types or have a mixture of invasive and in situ cancer.

Ductal carcinoma in situ
Ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS; also known as intraductal carcinoma) is the most common type of non-invasive breast cancer. DCIS means that the cancer cells are inside the ducts but have not spread through the walls of the ducts into the surrounding breast tissue.

About 1 in 5 new breast cancer cases will be DCIS. Nearly all women diagnosed at this early stage of breast cancer can be cured. A mammogram is often the best way to find DCIS early.

When DCIS is diagnosed, the pathologist (a doctor specializing in diagnosing disease from tissue samples) will look for areas of dead or dying cancer cells, called tumor necrosis, within the tissue sample. If necrosis is present, the tumor is likely to be more aggressive. The term comedocarcinoma is often used to describe DCIS with necrosis.

Lobular carcinoma in situ
Although it is not a true cancer, lobular carcinoma in situ (LCIS; also called lobular neoplasia) is sometimes classified as a type of non-invasive breast cancer, which is why it is included here. It begins in the milk-producing glands but does not grow through the wall of the lobules.

Most breast cancer specialists think that LCIS itself does not become an invasive cancer very often, but women with this condition do have a higher risk of developing an invasive breast cancer in the same breast or in the opposite breast. For this reason, women with LCIS should make sure they have regular mammograms and doctor visits.

Invasive (or infiltrating) ductal carcinoma
This is the most common type of breast cancer. Invasive (or infiltrating) ductal carcinoma (IDC) starts in a milk passage (duct) of the breast, breaks through the wall of the duct, and grows into the fatty tissue of the breast. At this point, it may be able to spread (metastasize) to other parts of the body through the lymphatic system and bloodstream. About 8 of 10 invasive breast cancers are infiltrating ductal carcinomas.

Invasive (or infiltrating) lobular carcinoma
Invasive lobular carcinoma (ILC) starts in the milk-producing glands (lobules). Like IDC, it can spread (metastasize) to other parts of the body. About 1 out of 10 invasive breast cancers is an ILC. Invasive lobular carcinoma may be harder to detect by a mammogram than invasive ductal carcinoma.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.