Understanding the 4 Types of Breast Cancer
Breast cancer is one of the most common cancers in women and the second leading cause of cancer death in women in the United States. According to the American Cancer Society, about 1 in 8 women (just over 12%) will develop invasive breast cancer. About 42,170 women in the US are expected to die from breast cancer this year.
Although breast cancer rates have been stable in recent years, the number of deaths from breast cancer has been declining since 1989. This decline is thought to result from early detection and improved treatment.
Four Main Types of Breast Cancer
There are four main types of breast cancer, each with its own characteristics.
- Ductal Carcinoma. Ductal carcinoma is the most common type of breast cancer, accounting for about 80 percent of all cases. It begins in the milk ducts, the tubes that carry milk from the breast to the nipple. Ductal carcinoma can be either in situ (non-invasive) or invasive (spreading beyond the milk ducts).
- Lobular Carcinoma. Lobular carcinoma starts in the milk-producing glands, called lobules. Lobular carcinoma can also be either in situ or invasive. Invasive lobular carcinoma makes up about 10 percent of all breast cancers.
- Inflammatory Breast Cancer. Inflammatory breast cancer is a rare but aggressive form of the disease that accounts for one to three percent of all breast cancers. This type of cancer causes the breast to become red, swollen, and painful. Inflammatory breast cancer is often diagnosed at a later stage because it can mimic other conditions, such as an infection.
- Paget’s Disease of the Nipple. Paget’s disease of the nipple is a form of cancer that affects the nipple and surrounding area. Paget’s disease is rare, accounting for about one percent of all breast cancers. This type of cancer can be difficult to detect in its early stages because it often does not cause any signs or symptoms.
Imaging Tests to Diagnose Breast Cancer
Mammography is the most common type of breast cancer diagnostic imaging. It uses low-dose x-rays to take pictures of the breast. Mammography can be used to detect both early and late stage breast cancers.
Breast ultrasound is another type of diagnostic imaging used to detect both early and late-stage breast cancers. Ultrasound uses sound waves to create an image of the breast. Breast ultrasound is often used along with mammography to help diagnose breast cancer.
Breast MRI is a type of diagnostic imaging that uses magnetic fields and radio waves to create an image of the breast. Breast MRI is often used with mammography and/or ultrasound to help diagnose breast cancer.
A biopsy is the most definitive way to diagnose breast cancer. A biopsy involves removing a small amount of tissue from the breast for examination under a microscope. Several types of biopsies can be performed, including needle and surgical.
Needle biopsy is less invasive than surgical biopsy and can be done using ultrasound or mammography to guide the needle to the appropriate breast area. A surgical biopsy involves making an incision in the skin to remove a sample of breast tissue. Surgical biopsy is usually done when a mass is felt during a physical exam or seen on mammography, but cannot be completely characterized with ultrasound.
Staging and Treating Breast Cancer
Once breast cancer has been diagnosed, the next step is determining the cancer stage. The stage of breast cancer refers to the size of the tumor and whether or not cancer has spread beyond the breast.
Staging tests help to determine the stage of breast cancer. These tests may include x-rays, MRI, PET scans, bone scans, and/or CT scans. Treatment for breast cancer will vary depending on the stage of cancer.
Stage 0: Also called ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS), this is non-invasive breast cancer. DCIS is considered an early-stage breast cancer because it has not yet spread outside the ducts. Treatment for DCIS typically involves surgery to remove the cancerous tissue, followed by radiation therapy.
Stage I: This invasive breast cancer is small in size and has not spread outside the breast. Treatment for Stage I breast cancer typically involves surgery to remove the cancerous tissue, followed by radiation therapy.
Stage II: This invasive breast cancer is larger in size and may have spread to the lymph nodes under the arm. Treatment for Stage II breast cancer typically involves surgery to remove the cancerous tissue, followed by radiation therapy and/or chemotherapy.
Stage III: This invasive breast cancer has spread outside the breast and to the lymph nodes. Treatment for Stage III breast cancer typically involves surgery to remove the cancerous tissue, followed by radiation therapy and/or chemotherapy.
Stage IV: This is the most advanced stage of breast cancer. Stage IV breast cancer has spread outside the breast and to other organs in the body, such as the bones, liver, or lungs. Stage IV breast cancer treatment typically involves chemotherapy and/or targeted therapy. Surgery may also be an option for some patients with Stage IV breast cancer.
Metastatic Breast Cancer: Metastatic breast cancer is breast cancer that has spread to other organs in the body. Metastatic breast cancer is considered Stage IV breast cancer. Treatment for metastatic breast cancer typically involves chemotherapy and/or targeted therapy. Surgery may also be an option for some patients with metastatic breast cancer.
Breast cancer is a serious disease that can profoundly impact a person’s life. However, it is important to remember that many treatment options are available, and the outlook for people with breast cancer is generally very good. With early detection and proper treatment, most people with breast cancer will live long, healthy lives.
Schedule Your Breast Imaging Appointment Today
ImageCare Centers lead the way in imaging for women’s health throughout New Jersey. We offer state-of-the-art breast imaging at a fraction of the cost of hospitals and urgent care clinics. If your doctor has requested a 3D mammogram, breast MRI, or other imaging tests for you, contact us today at 973-871-3333 to schedule an appointment or complete our convenient online appointment request form.