Types Of Breast Cancer - What You Should Know

Many people think of breast cancer as one disease, but there are many different types. They all have different risk factors and preventions, but many of the symptoms and treatments overlap. 

The different types of breast cancers include:

  • Invasive ductal carcinoma

  • Metastatic breast cancer

  • Triple-negative breast cancer

  • Inflammatory breast cancer

  • Fibrocystic breast disease

  • Invasive lobular carcinoma

  • Recurrent breast cancer

  • Male breast cancer

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Invasive ductal carcinoma

Invasive ductal carcinoma is the most common type of breast cancer, accounting for 80%¹ of all diagnoses.

  • It can spread to surrounding breast tissue and beyond

  • It begins in the milk ducts (the tubes that deliver milk from the lobules to the nipples)

  • Within the first two stages, this cancer is treatable with radiation therapy, chemotherapy, and mastectomy.

Metastatic breast cancer

Also known as stage IV breast cancer, metastatic breast cancer has already spread from the breast and beyond the lymph nodes to other body areas such as the liver, brain, lungs, bones. Cancer cells migrate from the original tumor site in the breast tissue to different body areas via the lymphatic system and bloodstream.

  • 30% of women who are diagnosed with early-stage breast cancer go on to develop metastatic breast cancer²

  • The five-year survival rate is between 22-28%

  • Options include chemotherapy, radiation, hormone therapy, targeted therapy, and local treatments for metastasis areas

  • The best prevention is monthly breast self-exams plus annual screening mammograms after the age of 40

  • Genetic testing can help to identify your chances of getting metastatic breast cancer

Triple-negative breast cancer (TNBC)

TNBC makes up about 15% of all breast cancers³. Genetically, individuals with a BRCA1 gene mutation have a higher chance of getting TNBC (BRCA1 is known as the “Caretaker Gene” because it suppresses cancer development).

  • The cancer cells do not contain progesterone or estrogen receptors

  • The cancer cells don’t create large amounts of HER2 proteins (proteins that promote breast cancer cell growth)

  • TNBC cells usually test negative on all three main breast cancer tests

  • More common in women under 40

  • More common in African American women

  • TNBC does not respond well to hormone therapy and drugs targeting the HER2 protein

  • Chemotherapy is often the preferred treatment option, particularly when cancer has spread to other areas (stage IV)

  • If small enough, early-stage tumors can be removed via surgery

Inflammatory breast cancer (IBC)

Inflammatory breast cancer is a relatively rare cancer that makes up 5% of all breast cancer types⁴. 

  • It is often a form of invasive ductal carcinoma but has different symptoms and general outlook.

  • Unlike other breast cancers, it often has symptoms of inflammation due to cancer cells blocking the vessels in lymph nodes.

  • Usually, no lump is felt but rather skin thickening and purple or reddish skin color around the site.

  • Chemotherapy is used to shrink the tumor when the cancer has not spread outside the breast or surrounding lymph nodes.

  • For HER2-positive IBC cases, targeted therapy is delivered alongside chemotherapy.

  • Surgery may also be used to remove the tumor and is often followed by radiation therapy.

Fibrocystic breast disease

Fibrocystic breast disease is not true cancer, but it is a common ailment with symptoms similar to breast cancer. Fibrocystic breast disease does not increase your chances of developing breast cancer.

  • Fibrocystic breasts contain lumpy tissue that changes with the menstrual cycle.

  • Symptoms are pain, tenderness, lumps in the upper breast area, green or dark brown discharge from the nipples.

  • If you have symptoms of fibrocystic breast disease, it’s important to be clinically screened to rule out breast cancer. 

  • Treatment is not required if you don’t experience symptoms or pain

  • For those experiencing symptoms, or if you experience painful cysts as a result of the condition, treatment may include fine-needle aspiration (the cyst is drained of fluid using a very thin needle), or surgery (the cyst is removed). 

Invasive lobular carcinoma

This type of cancer typically starts in the glands or milk-producing lobules of the breast. It can spread from the lobules to other body tissues.

  • Not likely to cause a lump. This makes it difficult to detect with self-exams.

  • A mammogram is the best way to diagnose it.

  • Can cause thickening of the breast tissue, swelling, and dimpling

  • Standard treatment options include surgery, chemotherapy, radiation, and hormone therapy.

  • Treatment depends on the cancer’s spread and stage as well as your overall health.

Recurrent breast cancer

Recurrent breast cancer refers to any type of breast cancer that returns after treatment, usually within five years of the initial diagnosis. Cancer cells are difficult to target, and even with mastectomy and follow-up radiation, some cells may not be destroyed.

  • Cancer cells continue to grow and multiply, resulting in a return of the cancer diagnosis.

  • It can occur on the opposite side to the first diagnosis or in the lymph nodes or other parts of the body.

  • The best prevention is to opt for chemotherapy, radiation therapy, or targeted hormonal therapy after your surgery.

  • Where the cancer recurs locally, surgery, which is then followed by radiation therapy, is often the best option.

  • In some cases, your doctor may recommend hormone therapy and chemotherapy.

Male breast cancer

Anyone can develop breast cancer, not just women. However, it is relatively rare in men - they account for fewer than 1% of breast cancer cases. 

  • Some men develop breast gland tissue from unusual hormone levels or certain medications. Breast cancer may then develop in this tissue.

  • Common risk factors include high estrogen levels, liver disease, heavy alcohol use, and age

  • Tenderness, nipple discharge, painful breasts, lumps, enlarged lymph nodes under the arm

  • Men experiencing these symptoms should see their doctor for further tests. 

  • Treatment depends on the cancer’s spread and stage, as well as your age and overall health.

  • Standard treatment options include surgery, chemotherapy, hormone therapy, radiation therapy, and targeted therapy

The lowdown

Breast cancer has many different types. While each has its own risk factors and preventative measures, the treatment options mostly stay the same.

Regardless of the type, breast cancer is treatable if it is caught in the early stages. For this reason, it’s vital to perform monthly breast self-exams and for women over 40 to get an annual mammogram. 

Learn more about the causes and risk factors of breast cancer. 

  1. Invasive Ductal Carcinoma (IDC) | Breastcancer.org

  2. Metastatic Breast Cancer | Breastcancer.org

  3. Triple-negative Breast Cancer | American Cancer Society

  4. Inflammatory Breast Cancer | American Cancer Society

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