Defining Breast Cancer

|   March 15, 2019   |   Cancer, Mammograms

Defining Breast Cancer

You may think you know what breast cancer is, but this one condition covers a myriad of terms, types, and classifications that are complicated to understand. Each of these refers to the quantity, size, spread, location, of cancerous cells and tumors. These details are important for providing accurate treatment and prognosis for breast cancer patients. This also means that breast cancer is far from a one-size-fits-all disease and shouldn’t be thought of as such. The more you understand about breast cancer, the more equipped you will be to handle a diagnosis for yourself or a loved one.

Types of Breast Cancer


There are three different categories of breast cancer depending on where tumors are located and how many there are. One tumor in the breast is called unifocal breast cancer. Multifocal breast cancer is when there are at least two tumors in the same area of the breast, and the tumors have split from the same original tumor. Multicentric breast cancer also refers to two or more tumors, but they develop on their own in different areas of the breast.

Within these categories are noninvasive and invasive tumors. The distinction is based on what type of cells become cancerous and whether or not they spread. Noninvasive breast cancer grows in the lining of tissues and organs—areas like the glands, milk ducts, or small lobes of the breast. Noninvasive tumors remain in the areas where they develop. Invasive tumors develop also grows within the glands, ducts, and lobes, but left unchecked can continue to spread throughout the breast and even to other parts of the body.

To further break it down, there are several types of noninvasive and invasive cancers. The most common are ductal and lobular. As their names imply, ductal refers to cancer that forms in the ducts, and lobular is cancer that develops in the lobules. Both noninvasive ductal and noninvasive lobular cancers increase a person’s risk of developing an invasive form of cancer later in life and have a 30% chance of recurrence. Noninvasive lobular cancer can be difficult to detect as it doesn’t usually show up on a traditional mammogram. The most common type of breast cancer is invasive ductal at 80%, and invasive lobular is the least common.

Grading and Staging


Grades and stages help separate cancer diagnoses and aid in accurately determining treatment and prognosis. Grades distinguish what cells look like, how quickly they are growing, and if they are likely to spread. For invasive breast cancer, the grades are numbered one through three, getting progressively larger and faster growing with each stage. In grade one, the cells are small, uniform, and slow growing. In grade two, the cells start to vary in shape and size and grow more quickly. Grade three cells are fast-growing and big. Noninvasive cancer also has grades, but tumors are classified as low, medium, or high grade.

There are also stages of breast cancer to characterize if and how far a tumor has spread. Staging uses the TNM system—tumor, node, metastasis. Using these three factors, doctors are looking at the characteristics of the tumor, if it has reached lymph nodes, and if it has metastasized or created secondary tumors. Stage one means there is a small tumor that is contained in one place. In stage two, the tumor is still relatively small but is starting to spread, possibly even into nearby lymph nodes. Stage three indicates the tumor is larger, has spread to surrounding areas, and is in the lymph nodes. Stage four is the highest stage where the cancer has spread to another organ within the body and caused a secondary cancer. As stages progress, the five-year survival rate continues to decline. 

This reiterates the importance of early detection. A vital step in early detection is to get regular mammograms. At The Woman’s Clinic’s Breast Center, we offer 3D mammograms. This technology allows multiple views of the breast, making it easier to detect tumors and other irregularities. 3D mammography is also more helpful for women with dense breast tissue than a traditional mammogram and is a safer option for all women because it reduces the likelihood of follow-up testing. False positives are also greatly reduced through 3D mammograms. 

If you are age forty-five plus and haven’t had a mammogram, it’s time. You can easily request an appointment online!


Return to Blog