Find out more about different types of early or primary breast cancer.
Types of breast cancer
Breast cancer is the name given to any cancer that starts in the breast tissue. Breast cancer that is found only in the breast (and possibly armpit lymph nodes) is known as early, or primary, breast cancer. There are many types of early breast cancer.
Non-invasive breast cancer
Primary breast cancers that are found only in the milk lobes (glands) or ducts (tubes) of the breast and not in other tissues of the breast are known as non-invasive breast cancers. They can be thought of as an early form of breast cancer, and are sometimes called 'pre-cancerous'.
Around 5,500 women and 30 men are diagnosed with this type of cancer each year in the UK. The most common type of non-invasive breast cancer is ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS), also known as pre-invasive or intra-ductal carcinoma.
Non-invasive breast cancers sometimes later develop the ability to spread to surrounding tissues, becoming invasive. For this reason, women with non-invasive breast cancers are usually advised to have treatment. DCIS is usually treated by surgery, and some women may receive additional treatments, such as radiotherapy.
The effectiveness of hormone therapy for DCIS is being assessed in clinical trials.
Non-invasive breast cancer is not the same as a benign breast condition. Benign breast conditions, such as cysts and fibroadenomas, are not cancer and are rarely associated with an increased risk of developing breast cancer in the future
Invasive breast cancer
Primary breast cancers that are not confined to the milk lobes or ducts and that have spread to the surrounding normal tissue of the breast are known as invasive breast cancer. This is different from secondary breast cancer, which is invasive breast cancer that has spread to other areas of the body.
Over 50,000 women and around 350 men are diagnosed with invasive breast cancer each year in the UK. Most commonly, this is invasive ductal breast cancer, sometimes called ‘no special type’ (NST) or ‘not otherwise specified’ (NOS). Invasive lobular breast cancer is another invasive breast cancer but is less common.
There are also many rarer types of invasive breast cancer including inflammatory breast cancer, Paget's disease, carcinomas with medullary features, metaplastic breast cancer, tubular breast cancer, mucinous breast cancer and malignant phyllodes tumours.
More information on these types of breast cancer can be found on the Breast Cancer Care website
Information last reviewed: February 2016
Next review due: February 2019
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