For Breast Cancer Awareness Month Kristina Mirabeau-Beale, mD, MPH, and Bridget Koontz, MD, discuss the different types of breast cancer that clinicians need to be aware of.
Despite advancements in screening and early detection, the annual number of new breast cancer cases in the United States has remained steady over the past 20 years. As of now, approximately 42,000 women and 500 men in the U.S. die each year from breast cancer.1
As an overall category, breast cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death among women. While that’s important to remember, there’s something else to keep in mind—not all breast cancer is the same. Pinpointing the type of disease early on allows for immediate, targeted treatment which can include surgery, chemotherapy, and/or radiation.
The Types of Breast Cancer to Anticipate
In situ breast cancer, also known as ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS), is a common type of early-stage cancer. Roughly 20% of patients with breast cancer diagnosed from screening studies fits into this category.
With DCIS, cancer cells are present, as they can be seen under a microscope, but since they’re confined to the lining of the ducts they don’t generally spread to other parts of the body. Any breast cancer is serious, but DCIS is among the most manageable. It’s often treated with a lumpectomy followed by radiation, and as a slow-growing cancer there’s a positive outlook for a full recovery.
There are 2 distinct types of invasive breast cancer:
Both types of invasive breast cancer are generally more serious than DCIS, as the cells have spread beyond the lining and into other tissues of the breast.
Rare Types of Breast Cancer
In patients with the many types of rare breast cancer their disease is more aggressive and more difficult to treat than those that are commonly diagnosed.
Inflammatory breast cancer (IBC) is both aggressive and rare. Although it fits into the invasive ductal carcinoma category, its symptoms, outlook, and treatment options are much different.
In addition to visible inflammation and redness, other differences include:
Although IBC is associated with a worse prognosis than other types of breast cancer, treatment is available. This includes chemotherapy, mastectomy, radiation, and hormone therapy.
In comparison, paget’s disease of the breast is among the rarest forms of cancer, accounting for roughly 1% to 3% of all cases. Paget’s disease starts in the ducts and then spreads to the nipple and areola. Treatment typically includes a mastectomy or breast-conserving surgery (BCS) followed by radiation therapy. If the cancer is contained, the prognosis for a full recovery is excellent. However, if the cancer has spread, it’s more difficult to cure and calls for treatment like other forms of invasive breast cancer.
Triple-negative breast cancer is best defined as a type that does not have the receptors that are generally found in more common forms of the disease. These receptors include estrogen, human epidermal growth factor (HER2), and progesterone.
Male breast cancer is extremely rare, with the American Cancer Society estimating that 2,710 new cases will be diagnosed in 2022.2 Since men don’t get regular mammograms, they’re often diagnosed after finding a lump on their pectoral muscle or chest wall. Treatment is like females with non-invasive breast cancer, starting with a simple lumpectomy and followed by radiation.
The Bottom Line
Hundreds of thousands of women are diagnosed with breast cancer every year, and unfortunately tens of thousands of women die each year from this disease.3 Protect yourself by remaining vigilant, reporting symptoms to your primary care physician, and receiving regular screenings.
This approach improves the likelihood of an early diagnosis and improved prognosis. If diagnosed with a breast cancer, knowing what kind of cancer your patient has helps to determine the best treatment option.
1. Basic Information About Breast Cancer. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. September 26th, 2022. Accessed: October 25, 2022. https://bit.ly/3SF1zSc
2. Key Statistics for Breast Cancer in Men. January 12, 2022. Accessed: October 25, 2022. https://bit.ly/3Db6iWe
3. Breast Cancer Treatment and Diagnosis. GenesisCare. January 1, 2022. Accessed: October 25, 2022. https://bit.ly/3SFfSpO