Breast Cancer

As the name suggests, breast cancer is an abnormal and rapid division of cells within the breast. Contrary to popular belief, breast cancer is not just limited to women, as men can suffer from this type of cancer as well (albeit less frequent). After skin cancer breast cancer is the second most diagnosed cancer in women.

Breast cancer most often begins within the milk producing ducts of the breast, this is called invasive ductal carcinoma.

Breast cancer can spread from your breast to the lymphatic system or to other parts of your body through a process called metastasis.

Types of breast cancer

There are multiple types of breast cancers which are divided into 2 main categories, ductal carcinoma in situ and invasive breast cancer. Ductal carcinoma in situ breast cancer is cancer that starts in the milk ducts of the breast and has not moved beyond where it originally formed. The term in situ means “in its place” in Latin. On the other hand, invasive breast cancer is a carcinoma that has spread into surrounding breast tissue.

Ductal carcinoma in situ breast cancer

In situ breast cancer
Non invasive breast cancer pictured above. Luckily this is the most diagnosed form of breast cancer.

This refers to breast cancer that starts in the milk producing ducts of the breast and never metastasizes beyond these ducts. This cancer is not life threatening, but it is does increase risk for developing invasive breast cancer in the future.

If you have a ductal carcinoma in situ diagnosis, you have an almost 30% chance of having another diagnosis in the future. Most recurrence happens within 5-10 years of the original diagnosis. In the event the cancer comes back there is on average a 50% chance that will come back as ductal carcinoma in situ and a 50% that it will come back as a more dangerous invasive breast cancer.

Invasive breast cancer

Invasive breast cancers come in the form of invasive ductal carcinoma, invasive lobular carcinoma, inflammatory breast cancer, Pagets disease of the nipple as well as Phyllodes tumor of the breast.

Invasive breast cancer is breast cancer that starts in the breast ducts or glands and then moves to surrounding tissues. This type of breast cancer can also metastasize to lymphatic system and other parts of the body.

Types of invasive breast cancer

Invasive ductal carcinoma

Approximately 80% of all invasive breast cancers are Invasive ductal carcinomas. These are cancers that begin in the milk producing ducts which carry the milk from the milk producing lobes to the nipple. There are several types of subsets of invasive ductal cancer.

  • Tubular carcinoma of the breast – These invasive carcinomas are typically quite small, measuring 1 cm across of less. This type of cancer is considered low grade, meaning that under the microscope they look almost like normal cells and are slow growing.
  • Medullary carcinoma of the breast – This rare breast cancer gets it name from a part of the brain called the medulla. This cancer resembles medulla which is part of the human brain. This type of cancer appears to be high grade under the microscope, but in reality is low grade as it is a slow growing cancer.
  • Mucinous carcinoma of the breast – also known as colloid carcinoma is another rare form of invasive breast cancer. These types of cancer form inside of mucin, which is a key ingredient in the production of mucous. Mucinous carcinomas of the breast basically float in tiny pools of mucin.
  • Papillary carcinoma of the breast – rare form of invasive breast cancer that makes up approximately 1.5% of all invasive breast cancer diagnosis. These cancers have well defined borders and are made up of small finger like extremities.
  • Cribriform carcinoma of the breast – This form of breast cancer makes up 5-6% of all invasive breast cancers. In cribrifrom carcinoma of the breast, the cancer sells invade the stroma. The stroma is the connective tissue of the breast. The cancer cells form nest like formations between the ducts. Within the tumor itself there are holes making it look like a sponge. This form of carcinoma is typically low grade.

Invasive lobular carcinoma

Also known as infiltrating lobular carcinoma, this is the second most common type of invasive ductal breast carcinoma. This cancer starts in the milk producing lobules of the breast and spread outside this area. This cancer can effect women of any age, however becomes more prevalent with age.

Inflammatory breast cancer

This is a rare and very aggressive form of breast cancer. It is considered high grade. Approximately 1% of all invasive breast cancers are inflammatory breast cancers. Inflammatory breast cancer starts with a swelling and inflammation of the breast. This type of cancer spreads very quickly.

Pagets disease of the nipple

This is a rare form of invasive breast cancer that forms in the milk ducts just below the nipple, but then grows aggressively to the nipple and the surrounding areola. With pagets disease of the nipple, the nipple and areola become red and inflamed. This cancer makes up approximately 5% of all invasive breast cancers.

Phyllodes tumor of the breast

The name phyllode is taken from Greek which means “leaf like.” The reason for this name is due to the leaf like shape that the cancer cells arrange themselves. Phyllodes tumor of the breast also goes by the names of phylloides tumor and cystosarcoma phyllodes. Though these tumors tend to grow rather quickly they rarely tend to grow outside the breast. Most phylodes tumors tend to be benign, however some are cancerous and others are borderline. The most popular age for phyllodes tumors of the breast to occur is in our 40’s.

Breast cancer symptoms

  • Lump in breast or armpit
  • Thickening or inflammation of breast
  • Indentation or irritation of the breast
  • Change in size of breast
  • Change in color of breast skin
  • Redness or flaky skin on the nipple or areola
  • Pain in the nipple or areola
  • Nipple or areola discharge
  • Pain in any part of the breast

Breast cancer risk factors

  • Longer exposure to female hormones due to either starting period before the age of 12 and / or entering menopause after the age of 55
  • Genetic factors
  • High density breast tissue
  • Personal history of breast cancer
  • Aging
  • Exposure to raditation especially in the breast / chest area
  • Exposure to diethylstilbestrol
  • Obesity
  • Taking supplemental hormones
  • Being pregnant after the age of 30
  • Drinking alcohol

Breast cancer diagnosis

  • Mammogram
  • Breast ultrasound
  • Breast biopsy
  • Breast MRI
  • Breast exam
  • Physical Examination


Breast cancer is second only to skin cancer in terms of diagnosis rate world wide for women. Though the majority of diagnosis is non-invasive, those that are invasive could be a very dangerous and aggressive form of the disease.

Early detection is key in catching the disease early on to prevent potentially lethal effects of long term invasive forms of the disease.