Discovering a suspicious lump in your breast or learning that there may be an issue during a routine physical check-up is always frightening. Then, hearing that you do, indeed, have breast cancer is the nightmare scenario played out in the minds of women everywhere. Even though early detection and improved treatment protocols like learning what chemicals are cancer causing have greatly improved survival rates, learning that you have cancer is always terrifying. That is closely followed by a feeling of confusion and being overwhelmed by decisions that will need to be made.
Next to having confidence in your medical team and a strong support system, perhaps the best thing that can be done to give you back a sense of being in control is to learn as much as possible about your condition. A good place to start is with the cancer itself. Breast cancer is a complex disease that manifests in different ways. It can start in different areas of the breast, including the ducts, lobules or tissue in between, and it may initially be found in more than one location.
The first things your doctor will want to determine is the type of tissue where the tumor is located and whether it has spread beyond the breast. Breast cancer that has not spread is referred to as “in situ”, and those that have spread into surrounding areas are “invasive” or “infiltrating”. These factors play a role in identifying the type of cancer and the options for treatment.
The majority of breast cancers are carcinomas, which means that they start in the epithelial cells that line organs and tissues. Some are a specialized form of carcinoma, adenocarcinoma, that originate in the milk ducts or lobules (milk-producing glands) in the breast. Another type, sarcomas, are found in cells of the muscles, fat and connective tissues.
Types of breast cancer can be further differentiated according to whether they are non-invasive, invasive, recurrent and metastatic (spread from one organ to another), as well as characteristic or molecular subtypes. Some of these are:
- Ductal Carcinoma in Situ – the most common type of non-invasive breast cancer
- Invasive Ductal Carcinoma (infiltrating ductal carcinoma) – roughly 80% of all breast cancers are invasive ductal carcinomas
- Tubular Carcinoma of the Breast – subtype of invasive ductal carcinoma but less aggressive and responds well to treatment
- Medullary Carcinoma of the Breast – rare subtype of invasive ductal carcinoma, slow growing
- Mucinous Carcinoma of the Breast – rare, less aggressive subtype of invasive ductal carcinoma that tends to affect women after menopause
- Papillary Carcinoma of the Breast – also affects women after menopause but has more defined borders than mucinous carcinoma
- Cribriform Carcinoma of the Breast – cells are found in the connective tissues of the breast in nest-like formations
- Invasive Lobular Carcinoma – second most common type of breast cancer after invasive ductal carcinoma and tends to occur later in life
- Inflammatory Breast Cancer – rare and very aggressive, presents a reddening and swelling of the breast instead of a distinct lump
- Paget’s Disease of the Nipple – rare cancer in which cells collect in or around the nipple, often a sign that cancer is also present elsewhere in the breast
- Phyllodes Tumors of the Breast – rare tumor cells that grow in a leaf-like pattern, some benign, some malignant and some borderline
- Recurrent Breast Cancer – cancer that has returned to the same area following a period of time when none could be detected, considered advanced stage
- Metastatic Breast Cancer – breast cancer that has migrated to another part or parts of the body, considered stage IV, the most serious
- Male Breast Cancer – rare, less than 1% of total breast cancers, higher mortality rate due to later detection
The more you know about breast cancer, the better you will be able to be an active and informed participant in your treatment and recovery. If you don’t know, ask questions!
If you would like to learn more, please check out the following video!