Find out more about different types of early or primary breast cancer.

Types of breast cancer

Breast cancer that is found only in the breast (and sometimes neighbouring lymph nodes, such as those in the armpits) is known as primary, or early, breast cancer. There are many types of primary 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.

Non-invasive breast cancer is not the same as a benign breast condition. Benign breast conditions, such as cysts and fibroadenomas, are not cancer. However, certain benign conditions are sometimes 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

More information

Learn more about secondary breast cancer

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Information last reviewed: February 2016

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