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Invasive Breast Cancer

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Invasive Breast Cancer

All the terms involved in breast cancer can make it difficult to fully understand. This article will help to answer some questions about what invasive breast cancer is, how it looks, the different types, and treatment options. Knowing what to recognize can help you and your doctor fight the breast cancer.

What does it mean for breast cancer to be invasive vs. non-invasive?

The breast is made up of ducts, lobules, and glands that lead out to the nipple, surrounded by fat, connective tissue, and fibrous tissue. Breast cancers typically originate in the ducts, lobules, and sometimes the glands. If the cancer stays in there, it is non-invasive (“in situ”). Once it spreads out of those structures and into the surrounding breast tissue, the cancer becomes invasive. It then has the potential to invade lymph nodes, the blood stream, and other organs in the body, like the brain, bones, and liver, making it a metastatic (spreading) cancer. It can travel directly through walls, or more commonly through the lymphatic or hematologic route. The treatment options for an invasive and non-invasive breast cancer differ, so it is important for your doctor to determine what type it is.

What are the types of invasive breast cancer?

IDC- Invasive Ductal Carcinoma

IDC is the most common type, comprising 80% of invasive breast cancers in women. This cancer originates in the milk ducts, but has grown through the duct walls and spread out of it into the surrounding breast tissue. From there, it can metastasize to the rest of the body.

ILC- Invasive Lobular Carcinoma

ILC is less common, comprising 10-15% of invasive breast cancers. It starts in the milk lobules or glands, but spreads out through the wall into surrounding breast tissue, in a similar fashion as IDC. In a third of women, ILS is in bilateral (in both breasts).

Symptoms and Diagnosis

Signs of breast cancer may not be present early in the disease, but as the cancer progresses, these signs may appear. Let your doctor know if any of these changes appear with your breast:

- Lump or thickening that does not change with your menstruation cycle

- Mass or lump, which may feel as small as a pea

- Change in the size, shape, or contour of the breast

- Blood-stained or clear fluid discharge from the nipple

- Change in the feel or appearance of the skin on the breast or nipple -- dimpled, puckered, scaly, or inflamed

- Redness of the skin on the breast or nipple

- Change in shape or position of the nipple

- Area that is distinctly different from any other area on either breast

- Marble-like hardened area under the skin

In ILC, a mass or thickening of tissue is more typically felt than a lump.

I’ve been diagnosed. Now what?

Once your doctor gives you a diagnosis of invasive breast cancer, he/she may do a biopsy to look at the tumor cells to confirm the diagnosis. Some additional tests may give your doctor and you a better idea of the location, spread, prognosis, and staging for the treatment of your cancer:

-  CT scan
-  MRI
-  PET scan
-  Bone scan
-  Chest X-ray
-  Axillary lymph node sampling

Treatment Options

The treatment for IDC and ILC is surgery to remove the tumor. In 70% of cases, a lumpectomy (removal of just the lump) is effective and a mastectomy (removal of the entire breast) is not necessary. Of course, the extent of treatment depends on the size and spread of the cancer. Additional therapies are often recommended, especially for more advanced cancers, like chemotherapy, hormone therapy, and radiation therapy. These target cancer cells throughout the body, and cancer cells localized around the tumor, respectively.

Nancy Choi


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Carcinomas." UpToDate Inc. 13 Jan. 2010. Web. 07 Oct. 2010.

"Invasive Breast Cancer: Symptoms, Treatments, Prognosis." WebMD -
Better Information. Better Health. Web. 15 Oct. 2010.

"Non-Invasive or Invasive Breast Cancer?" BreastCancer.org - Breast
Cancer Treatment Information and Pictures. Web. 15 Oct. 2010.