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Cribriform breast cancer

Cribriform breast cancer is a rare, typically slow-growing type of breast cancer. Read on to find out more about cribriform breast cancer.

1. What is cribriform breast cancer?

Cribriform breast cancer is a rare type of breast cancer.

It’s usually slow growing and low grade. This means generally people with cribriform breast cancer have a good outlook (prognosis) after treatment.

Cribriform breast cancer may be mixed with other types of breast cancer.

If it’s not mixed with another type, it’s called pure cribriform.

Cribriform cancer cells can also be found in a type of early breast cancer called DCIS (ductal carcinoma in situ).

A doctor called a pathologist looks at cancer cells, from tissue removed during a biopsy or surgery, under a microscope to see what type of breast cancer it is.


2. Symptoms of cribriform breast cancer

The most common symptom of cribriform breast cancer is a small lump or an area that feels thicker than the rest of the breast.

However, it’s often found during routine breast screening before there are any symptoms.

3. How cribriform breast cancer is diagnosed

Cribriform breast cancer is diagnosed using a range of tests. These may include:

  • A mammogram (breast x-ray)
  • An ultrasound scan (using sound waves to produce an image)
  • A core biopsy of the breast and sometimes (using a hollow needle to take a small sample of breast tissue to be looked at under a microscope – several tissue samples may be taken at the same time)
  • Fine needle aspiration (FNA) of the breast and sometimes lymph nodes (using a fine needle and syringe to take a sample of cells to be looked at under a microscope)

4. Treatment for cribriform breast cancer


Surgery is usually the first treatment for cribriform breast cancer.

There are 2 main types of breast surgery:

  • Breast-conserving surgery, also known as wide local excision or lumpectomy – removal of the cancer with a margin (border) of normal breast tissue around it
  • Mastectomy – removal of all the breast tissue including the nipple area

The type of surgery recommended depends on where the cancer is in the breast, the size of the cancer relative to the size of your breast, and whether more than one area in the breast is affected.

Most women who have a mastectomy will have the option to have breast reconstruction.

Additional treatments

After surgery, you may need other treatments. This is called adjuvant therapy and can include:

  • Radiotherapy
  • Hormone (endocrine) therapy
  • Chemotherapy
  • Targeted (biological) therapy
  • Bisphosphonates

The aim of these treatments is to reduce the risk of breast cancer returning or spreading somewhere else in the body.


If you have breast-conserving surgery you will usually be offered radiotherapy to the breast to reduce the risk of the cancer coming back in the same breast.

Radiotherapy is sometimes given to the chest wall after a mastectomy.

Hormone (endocrine) therapy

Some breast cancers use the hormone oestrogen in the body to help them grow. These are known as oestrogen receptor (ER) positive breast cancers.

Most cribriform breast cancers are ER-positive.

Hormone therapies block or stop the effect of oestrogen on breast cancer cells.

If your cancer is ER-positive, your treatment team will discuss with you which hormone therapy they think is most suitable.


People with cribriform breast cancer do not usually have chemotherapy.

This is because it’s less common for cribriform breast cancer to spread to the lymph nodes under the arm, and it’s more likely than other types of breast cancer to grow slowly.

Targeted (biological) therapy

This is a group of drugs that block the growth and spread of cancer.

People with cribriform breast cancer do not usually have targeted therapy

Your treatment team can tell you whether or not a targeted therapy drug would be suitable for you, based on the features of your cancer.


Bisphosphonates are a group of drugs that can reduce the risk of breast cancer spreading in post-menopausal women.

Your treatment team can tell you if bisphosphonates would be suitable for you.

5. Further support

Being diagnosed with breast cancer can be a difficult and frightening time.

If you’d like any further information and support or just want to talk things through, speak to one of our experts by calling our free helpline - please see further below.

Many people find it helps to talk to someone who has been through the same experience as them.

Our Someone Like Me service can put you in touch with someone who has had a diagnosis of breast cancer, so you can talk through your worries and share experiences over the phone or by email - please see further below.

You can also visit our online forum and join one of the ongoing discussions.

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Quality assurance

Last reviewed in February 2021. The next planned review begins in April 2023.

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