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Breast cancer starts when cells in the breast begin to divide and grow in an unusual and uncontrolled way.
Primary breast cancer is breast cancer that hasn’t spread beyond the breast or the lymph nodes (glands) under the arm.
Breasts are made up of lobules (milk-producing glands) and ducts (tubes that carry milk to the nipple). These are surrounded by tissue that gives the breasts their size and shape.
Breasts contain a network of thin tubes called lymph vessels. These are connected to the lymph nodes (glands) under the arm.
The lymph nodes
There are different types of breast cancer.
It can be diagnosed at different stages and can grow at different rates. This means people can have different treatments, depending on what will work best for them.
Breast cancer can be non-invasive (also called ‘in-situ’) or invasive.
Non-invasive breast cancer has not yet developed the ability to spread, either within the breast or to another part of the body.
Ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS) is an early type of breast cancer. It is sometimes called intraductal, non-invasive or pre-invasive cancer.
The cancer cells are inside the milk ducts (known as ‘in situ’) and have not yet spread, either through the ducts into surrounding breast tissue or to other parts of the body.
If DCIS is not treated, the cells may develop the ability to spread and become invasive breast cancer.
Most breast cancers are invasive.
Invasive breast cancer has the potential to spread to other areas of the body. This doesn’t mean the cancer has or will spread to another part of the body, just that it is a possibility.
Treatments aim to reduce the risk of this happening.
Most invasive breast cancers are of no special type (NST).
It’s also called invasive ductal breast cancer or not otherwise specified (NOS). This is because when the cancer cells are looked at under a microscope they have no distinct features that class them as a particular type.
This is the second most common type of breast cancer. Cancer cells in the lobules (milk-producing glands) have spread into the surrounding breast tissue.
Inflammatory breast cancer is a rare, faster-growing type of breast cancer. It is called inflammatory because the skin of the breast looks red and inflamed. This is caused by breast cancer cells blocking the tiny lymph channels in the breast and the skin.
Paget’s disease of the breast is an uncommon type of breast cancer that causes change to the skin of the nipple, similar to eczema.
There are several other rare special types of breast cancer. These include:
Treatment for primary breast cancer can include: