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What are the different types of breast cancer?

There are several types of breast cancer, including:

  • Ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS)
  • Invasive (infiltrating) ductal carcinoma (IDC)
  • Invasive (infiltrating) lobular carcinoma (ILC)
  • Inflammatory breast cancer (IBC)
  • Male breast cancer
  • Triple-negative breast cancer
  • Mixed tumors
  • Medullary carcinoma
  • Metaplastic carcinoma
  • Mucinous carcinoma
  • Paget disease
Dr. Amanda J. Morehouse, MD
Critical Care Surgeon

The different types of breast cancer include invasive ductal carcinoma, or breast cancer that favors the milk ducts of the breast. This is the most common type of breast cancer. That is about 70 percent of all invasive breast cancers. The second most common is breast cancer that favors the glandular tissue.

The term breast cancer is used to describe any cancer that originates from the breast organ in general. There are other types of cancer that may be located in the breast, but are not breast tissue specifically, like a lymphoma. A melanoma, skin cancer, can happen on the breast as well.

There are several different types of breast cancer depending on location and appearance. Cancer that develops in the lining of the milk ducts is called ductal carcinoma and is the most common type of breast cancer. Several subtypes of ductal cancer include tubular, medullary and mucinous types. Lobular carcinoma starts in lobules of the breast where breast milk is produced. Rarely breast cancer can also begin in the muscles, fat and blood vessels of the breast. In situ breast cancer refers to cancer in which the cells have remained within their place of origin and haven't spread to breast tissue around the duct or lobule.

There are several different types of breast cancer:

  • Ductal carcinoma: Cancer that begins in the cells of the ducts. This is the most common breast cancer type.
  • Ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS): Cancerous cells lie solely within the lining of the milk ducts, and haven't spread through the duct walls into surrounding breast tissue. If DCIS lesions are left untreated, over time, cancer cells may break through the duct and spread to nearby tissue, becoming an invasive breast cancer.
  • Invasive ductal carcinoma (IDC): Cancerous cells grow in the duct lining, break through the wall of the duct and invade local breast tissue. From there, the cancer may spread (metastasize) to other parts of the body.
  • Lobular carcinoma: Cancer that begins in the lobes or lobules. The lobules are connected to the ducts, which carry breast milk to the nipple.
  • Lobular carcinoma in situ (LCIS): This type of cancer begins in the lobules and does not typically spread through the wall of the lobules to the surrounding breast tissue or other parts of the body. While these abnormal cells seldom become invasive cancer, their presence indicates an increased risk of developing breast cancer later.
  • Invasive lobular carcinoma (ILC): Cancer starts in the lobules, invades nearby tissue and can spread (metastasize) to distant parts of the body. This breast cancer type accounts for about 1 out of 10 invasive breast cancers.
  • Inflammatory breast cancer (IBC): A rare and aggressive type of breast cancer that often starts within the soft tissues of the breast and causes the lymph vessels in the skin of the breast to become blocked. IBC accounts for about 1 to 5 percent of all breast cancers in the United States, and afflicts younger women more than other breast cancer types.
  • Paget’s disease of the nipple: A rare type of cancer that begins in the breast ducts (milk-carrying tubes) and spreads to the skin of the nipple and areola (dark circle of skin around the nipple), which may result in scaly, red, itchy or irritated skin in these areas.
  • Sarcoma of the breast: Breast cancer that begins in the connective tissues, such as muscle tissue, fat tissue or blood vessels. This type of breast cancer is rare. Examples include phyllodes tumor and angiosarcoma.

Some other types of breast cancer include: medullary carcinoma, tubular carcinoma, mucinous carcinoma, papillary carcinoma, metaplastic carcinoma, adenocystic carcinoma and triple-negative breast cancer.

Dr. Thomas C. Ortmeier, MD
Clinical Pathologist

"Breast cancer" is a single name for several different types of disease. In this video, Dr. Tom Ortmeier discusses several types of breast cancer and the treatments that are appropriate for each.

There are several types of breast cancer, although some of them are quite rare. In some cases a single breast tumor can have a combination of these types or have a mixture of invasive and in situ cancer.

Ductal carcinoma in situ
Ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS; also known as intraductal carcinoma) is the most common type of non-invasive breast cancer. DCIS means that the cancer cells are inside the ducts but have not spread through the walls of the ducts into the surrounding breast tissue.

About 1 in 5 new breast cancer cases will be DCIS. Nearly all women diagnosed at this early stage of breast cancer can be cured. A mammogram is often the best way to find DCIS early.

When DCIS is diagnosed, the pathologist (a doctor specializing in diagnosing disease from tissue samples) will look for areas of dead or dying cancer cells, called tumor necrosis, within the tissue sample. If necrosis is present, the tumor is likely to be more aggressive. The term comedocarcinoma is often used to describe DCIS with necrosis.

Lobular carcinoma in situ
Although it is not a true cancer, lobular carcinoma in situ (LCIS; also called lobular neoplasia) is sometimes classified as a type of non-invasive breast cancer, which is why it is included here. It begins in the milk-producing glands but does not grow through the wall of the lobules.

Most breast cancer specialists think that LCIS itself does not become an invasive cancer very often, but women with this condition do have a higher risk of developing an invasive breast cancer in the same breast or in the opposite breast. For this reason, women with LCIS should make sure they have regular mammograms and doctor visits.

Invasive (or infiltrating) ductal carcinoma
This is the most common type of breast cancer. Invasive (or infiltrating) ductal carcinoma (IDC) starts in a milk passage (duct) of the breast, breaks through the wall of the duct, and grows into the fatty tissue of the breast. At this point, it may be able to spread (metastasize) to other parts of the body through the lymphatic system and bloodstream. About 8 of 10 invasive breast cancers are infiltrating ductal carcinomas.

Invasive (or infiltrating) lobular carcinoma
Invasive lobular carcinoma (ILC) starts in the milk-producing glands (lobules). Like IDC, it can spread (metastasize) to other parts of the body. About 1 out of 10 invasive breast cancers is an ILC. Invasive lobular carcinoma may be harder to detect by a mammogram than invasive ductal carcinoma.

Dr. Ajay K. Sahajpal, MD
Transplant Surgeon

There are several ways to describe breast cancer types. Breast tumors are classified as non-invasive or invasive.

Non-invasive: Non-invasive breast cancer is an abnormal growth of cells still within the area in which it started. These cancer cells have not invaded into surrounding breast tissue. Ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS) is a non-invasive breast cancer and referred to as stage 0. In situ [in SY-too] means “in place.” Although DCIS and lobular carcinoma in situ (LCIS) sound similar, LCIS is not considered breast cancer. LCIS is a risk factor for breast cancer.

Invasive cancer: Most breast cancer occurs in the ducts of the breast; the tubes that carry breast milk to the nipple. This breast cancer is called ductal carcinoma. This type can be further divided into various subtypes. Inflammatory breast cancer (IBC) and Paget’s disease of the nipple are two rare types of invasive breast cancer. Other less common forms of invasive breast cancer are medullary, mucinous, papillary and tubular carcinoma.

A second, but less common form of breast cancer occurs in the lobules, where breast milk is made. This is called lobular carcinoma.

When breast cancer cells spread into surrounding breast tissue from the ducts or lobules, the cancer is called invasive. This increases the chance for cancer cells to spread to the lymph nodes. Invasive breast cancer is not the same as metastasis, which occurs when breast cancer cells break away from the breast tumor and spread to other organs of the body through either the blood stream or the lymphatic system.

There are many different types of breast cancer. The different kinds of breast cancer that involve the lobes, lobules and/or ducts are:

  • Ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS)
  • Invasive ductal cancer
  • Invasive lobular carcinoma

Less common types of breast cancer are:

  • Mucinous carcinoma (colloid carcinoma)
  • Medullary carcinoma
  • Tubular carcinoma
  • Paget's disease
  • Inflammatory carcinoma
  • Triple-negative breast cancer
  • Metaplastic carcinoma
  • Papillary carcinoma
  • Mixed tumors
  • Adenoid cystic carcinoma (adenocystic carcinoma)
Dr. Mehmet Oz, MD
Cardiologist (Heart Specialist)

Research has shown that there are different types of breast cancer. In this video, Dr. Oz discusses the three types and how they are different.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.