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Types of breast cancer

Breast cancer is not one disease. There are several types and sub-types of disease that are referred to as breast cancer. This is why the treatment you receive for your breast cancer may be quite different to the treatment other women may have.

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Non-invasive breast cancers

Non-invasive breast cancers are cancers that are contained within the milk ducts or lobules in the breast. They have not grown into, or invaded, the normal breast tissue. Non-invasive cancers are called carcinoma in situ and are sometimes referred to as pre-cancers.

Ductal carcinoma in situ

Ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS) is the most common type of non-invasive breast cancer. It starts in the milk ducts of the breast and is non-invasive because it hasn't spread into any surrounding breast tissue. DCIS isn't life-threatening, but having DCIS can increase the risk of developing an invasive breast cancer later in life. Read more about DCIS.

Lobular carcinoma in situ

Lobular carcinoma in situ (LCIS) is non-invasive breast cancer that grows in the lobules (the milk-producing glands at the end of breast ducts). It is non-invasive as it has not spread into any surrounding breast tissue. LCIS isn't life-threatening, but having LCIS can increase the risk of developing invasive breast cancer later on in life.

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Invasive breast cancers

Invasive cancers are cancers that are growing in the normal, healthy breast tissue.

Early breast cancer

Early breast cancer is cancer that is contained within the breast. It may also have spread to lymph nodes in the breast or armpit.

Paget's disease of the nipple

Paget's disease of the nipple is a rare form of invasive breast cancer in which cancer cells grow in the nipple or the areola (the area around the nipple). The nipple and areola often become scaly, red, itchy, and irritated.

Inflammatory breast cancer

Inflammatory breast cancer is a rare and aggressive form of invasive breast cancer that affects the blood vessels in the skin of the breast. It usually starts with the breast becoming red and inflamed, rather than with a lump.

As it is so rare, there is only limited information available. We recommend you download or order a copy of the Inflammatory breast cancer fact sheet produced by Cancer Australia. This five page booklet outlines the signs and symptoms of inflammatory breast cancer, how it is diagnosed and the treatment options available.

The US breastcancer.org website also has a range of very clearly explained information about inflammatory breast cancer. This is an American website and please keep in mind not all information may be relevant to inflammatory breast cancer in Australia.

Locally advanced breast cancer

Locally advanced breast cancer is an invasive breast cancer that is large or has spread beyond the breast to other nearby areas. Locally advanced breast cancer usually has a combination of some or all of the following features:

  • larger than 5 centimetres
  • spread to other tissues around the breast such as the skin, chest wall or muscle
  • spread extensively to lymph nodes.

Read more about locally advanced breast cancer

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Hormone receptor positive breast cancer

About two-thirds of breast cancers are hormone receptor positive, which means that they need female hormones (oestrogen and/or progesterone) to grow and reproduce. Most people with hormone positive breast cancer will be recommended hormone therapy. These are oral medications that are taken daily for at least five years following the completion of other breast cancer treatments (surgery, chemotherapy and/or radiotherapy).

HER2-positive breast cancer

HER2-positive breast cancer is a breast cancer that tests positive for a protein called human epidermal growth factor receptor 2 (HER2). The cancer cells make an excess of HER2, which promotes the growth of cancer cells.

The drug Herceptin specifically targets HER2-positive breast cancer and has been proven to be a very effective treatment. 

Triple negative breast cancer

If you have triple negative breast cancer, this means that your cancer does not have any of the three receptors commonly found on breast cancer cells (oestrogen, progesterone and HER2). Around 15% of breast cancers are triple negative. These generally respond very well to chemotherapy. Read more about triple negative breast cancer page.

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Metastatic breast cancer

Metastatic breast cancer, also known as advanced, secondary or stage 4 breast cancer, is breast cancer that has spread to more distant parts of the body such as the bones, liver or lungs. Read more about metastatic breast cancer