There are many types of breast cancer. Each one develops and responds to treatment differently. At the Abramson Cancer Center, we know that accurately identifying breast cancer type is the first step in effective breast cancer treatment.
Our specialized breast pathologists use their in-depth understanding of tumor characteristics to recognize all types of breast cancer. We provide you with a breast cancer diagnosis that is personalized and precise.
Understanding Breast Cancer Type
Breast cancer type is determined by two factors — where the cancer began and whether or not it has spread. Most breast cancers start in the breast ducts, which carry milk to the nipples (ductal cancers). Breast cancer may also begin in the breast lobules, the glands that produce milk (lobular cancers).
No matter where breast cancer originates in the breast, it can spread to other areas of breast tissue, lymph nodes under the armpit, or even to other parts of the body (called metastatic breast cancer).
Once cancer cells spread outside a breast duct to nearby breast tissue, the cancer is considered invasive. Cancers that remain within a duct are called noninvasive. The extent of cancer spread and the grade of the cancer (how fast it is likely to grow and spread) determine breast cancer stage.
Non-Invasive Breast Cancer (Ductal Carcinoma in Situ)
Ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS) is breast cancer located in the milk ducts that has not spread to nearby breast tissue. DCIS accounts for about one in every five breast cancers. While DCIS is not life-threatening, this diagnosis increases your cancer risk for recurrence or developing a new breast cancer.
Invasive Breast Cancer
Invasive, or infiltrating, breast cancer means that cancer has spread to nearby breast tissue. There are a number of invasive cancers related to the breast, each with its own characteristics. How we treat invasive breast cancer depends on your diagnosis. Types of invasive breast cancer include:
Male Breast Cancer
Although it is rare, men can develop breast cancer. Most breast cancer in men is ductal carcinoma. Since men are not screened for breast cancer, this type of cancer is typically discovered after finding a lump or noticing a change in the shape of the breast.
Other Ways We Classify Breast Cancer
After a breast cancer biopsy, we test the cancer cells for hormone receptors and genetic expression. Depending on the results of those tests, we may use specialized therapies to further personalize your treatment.
Some breast cancers use the hormones estrogen and progesterone to grow. Those cancer cells have receptors that “feed” on the hormones. These tumors are considered hormone receptor-positive (HR+), or just hormone-positive. About 80 percent of all breast cancers are HR+.
Breast cancer may test positive for estrogen (ER+), progesterone (PR+) or both (ER/PR+). We slow the growth of hormone-positive cancers through hormone therapy. Learn more about hormone-positive breast cancer.
We typically test invasive breast cancer tissue for HER2, or human epidermal growth factor receptor 2. Normal breast tissue has HER2 receptors (produced by the HER2 gene) on each cell. These receptors control breast tissue growth and repair. In some cases, an excess of HER2 receptors causes cells to grow too rapidly, leading to a tumor.
A positive test for HER2 means breast cancer may grow quickly and possibly come back (recur). This risk is significantly lowered with appropriate treatment. At the Abramson Cancer Center, we treat HER2-positive breast cancer with medications, called targeted therapy, that work to slow or stop tumor growth. Learn more about HER2-positive breast cancer.
Triple Negative Breast Cancer
Triple negative breast cancer (TNBC) is negative for hormone receptors and HER2. It does not rely on estrogen, progesterone or HER2 protein to grow. Approximately 10 to 15 percent of all breast cancers are triple negative. Learn more about triple negative breast cancer.