Note: The information on cancer types on the ACRF website is not designed to provide medical or professional advice and is for information only. If you have any health problems or questions please consult your doctor.
Most breast cancers are ductal carcinomas – this means they have originated in the ducts that carry milk to the nipple and are malignant (cancerous). Less common are lobular carcinomas – these form within the cells that line the lobules that produce milk.
If breast cancer cells are confined to the duct or lobule the cancer is in situ or pre-invasive, meaning it hasn’t left the site. The most common types of breast cancer at the pre-invasive stage are ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS) and lobular carcinoma in situ (LCIS).
When a cancer has moved beyond the ducts or lobules into surrounding breast tissue, it is called invasive or infiltrating cancer. The majority of breast cancers are found when they are invasive.
Invasive ductal carcinoma is the most common type of breast cancer. As the cells invade surrounding areas, scar tissue or other fibrous growth surrounds the tumor cells forming a lump that can be seen on a mammogram or felt during a physician’s examination.
Video kindly provided by Cancer Research UK
How common is breast cancer?
Breast cancer is a common cancer diagnosed in women. Breast cancer can occur at any age. It is more common in women aged over 60, although around one-quarter of women are younger than 50.
Men can also develop breast cancer, although this is rare.
Breast cancer treatment
Surgery is usually the first choice of treatment for breast cancer. Although there are a number of choices and your doctor will advise you on the best treatment for your cancer. The choice of treatment will depend on your test results, where the cancer is and if it has spread, whether your cancer has oestrogen or progesterone receptor protein, your age and general health, and ultimately what you choose.
Treatment options include:
- Hormone treatment
- Ovarian ablation
Lumpectomy or Partial Mastectomy – this involves the surgical removal of the lump, a margin of normal tissue surrounding the lump, and the underarm lymph nodes (followed by treatment with radiation). The amount of breast tissue removed depends on the size and location of the tumor.
Mastectomy – this involves surgery to remove the whole breast and usually the nipple. Some or all of the lymph nodes in the armpit closest to your affected breast may also be removed (Axillary surgery). You may be offered a mastectomy if the cancer is large compared to the size of your breast, or the cancer is in more than one area of your breast.
N.B. After a mastectomy your breast shape can be reconstructed using either an implant or tissue from another part of your body.
Sentinel node biopsy – the sentinel nodes are the first lymph nodes that breast cancer cells may spread to outside the breast. Removing only the sentinel nodes for examination means this new technique spares many women from extensive surgery to remove a cluster of lymph nodes from under the arm to see if they contain cancer cells.
Radiotherapy uses x-rays to kill cancer cells or stop them from growing. After breast surgery, radiotherapy is usually used to help destroy any cancer cells left in the breast. Treatment is carefully planned to do as little harm as possible to your normal body tissues.
Chemotherapy uses drugs to kill or slow the growth of cancer cells. Chemotherapy is usually given through a vein (intravenously) or can be administered in tablet form.
The aim of hormone treatment is to destroy any cancer cells left in the breast or that may have spread outside the breast and armpit after other treatment. Hormone treatment is only recommended for women whose breast cancer cells need the female hormones to grow (hormone receptor positive). Reducing the amount of oestrogen through hormone treatment can help slow or stop the growth of hormone receptor positive cancer cells.
Stopping the ovaries from producing oestrogen by removing the ovaries with surgery, or giving a dose of radiotherapy to the ovaries is know as ovarian ablation. Women who are still menstruating can use this treatment but it causes permanent menopause effects.