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Types of breast cancer

Types of breast cancer

Breast cancer - types and subtypes

Breast cancer is not one disease. There are different types and subtypes 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 other treatment women may have.

Types of breast cancer

Non-invasive breast cancers:

Invasive breast cancers:

  • Invasive ductal carcinoma
  • Invasive lobular carcinoma
  • Paget’s disease of the nipple
  • Inflammatory breast cancer
  • Phyllodes tumours of the breast
  • Locally advanced breast cancer
  • Metastatic breast cancer

Subtypes of breast cancer

The subtypes of breast cancer are based on the genes a cancer expresses.
The three main subtypes are:

  • Hormone receptor positive breast cancer
  • HER2 positive breast cancer
  • Triple negative breast cancer

Types of breast cancer

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.

Invasive breast cancers:

Invasive breast cancers have spread outside the ducts or lobules of the breast into surrounding breast tissue. ‘Early breast cancer’ is the term that refers to cancer that is contained within the breast and may have spread to surrounding lymph nodes in the breast or armpit (axilla) but not anywhere else in the body.

Invasive ductal carcinoma

Invasive ductal carcinoma (IDC) is the most common type of breast cancer. About 80% of all breast cancers are invasive ductal carcinomas. Invasive ductal carcinoma means that the cancer that began in the milk ducts of the breast has broken through the lining of the milk duct and spread into the surrounding breast tissue. Over time invasive ductal breast cancer can spread to the lymph nodes and potentially to other parts of the body.

Invasive lobular carcinoma

Invasive lobular carcinoma (ILC) is the second most common type of breast cancer after invasive ductal carcinoma. Invasive lobular carcinoma means that the cancer that began in the milk-producing lobules of the breast has broken through the lining of the lobule and spread into surrounding breast tissue. Over time invasive lobular breast cancer can spread to the lymph nodes and potentially to other parts of the body.

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

Paget’s disease of the nipple

Paget's disease of the nipple is a rare form of 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. Many people with Paget’s disease also have either DCIS or invasive breast cancer somewhere else in the breast. The unusual changes in the nipple and areola are often the first signs that breast cancer is present.

Inflammatory breast cancer

Inflammatory breast cancer is a rare and aggressive form of invasive breast cancer that affects the blood vessels in the skin and/or lymphatic vessels of the breast. This causes the breast to become red and inflamed. As it is so rare, there is only limited information available. See Cancer Australia for more information about inflammatory breast cancer.

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 Australia.

Phyllodes tumours of the breast

Phyllodes tumours of the breast are rare. Although most phyllodes tumours are benign (not cancerous) some are malignant (cancerous). Phyllodes tumours tend to grow quickly, but they rarely spread outside the breast. Phyllodes tumours develop in the breast’s connective tissue or stroma (the tissue that holds everything together inside the breast) i.e. outside the ducts and lobules of the breast. 

The US breastcancer.org website has a range of very clearly explained information about phyllodes tumours. This is an American website and please keep in mind not all information may be relevant to 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 such as the skin, chest wall or muscle and may have extensive local lymph node involvement. Read more about locally advanced breast cancer

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

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Subtypes of breast cancer

The three main subtypes of breast cancer.

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-blocking therapy such as tamoxifen, anastrozole or letrozole. 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 cells have too much of the protein called human epidermal growth factor receptor 2 on the surface of the cancer cells. These excess HER2 receptors promote the growth of the cancer cells. HER2-positive breast cancer may be either hormone receptor positive or negative.

HER2-positive breast cancers are treated with the drug Herceptin (trastuzumab), which specifically targets HER2-positive breast cancer and has been proven to be a very effective treatment. Most people with HER2-positive early breast cancer will be treated with 12 months of Herceptin, along with other treatments (surgery, chemotherapy and/or radiotherapy). They may also be offered 12 months of Nerlynx (neratinib), an oral medication used to treat HER2-positive breast cancer. If the breast cancer is also hormone receptor positive, hormone-blocking therapy may be recommended.

Triple negative breast cancer

Triple negative breast cancer does not have any of the three receptors commonly found on breast cancer cells (oestrogen, progesterone and HER2). Around 15 per cent of breast cancers are triple negative and chemotherapy is generally recommended for these cancers. Read more about triple negative breast cancer.

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