Skip Navigation
Breast Cancer

Types of Breast Cancer

To understand how to treat a patient with breast cancer, you must test and understand the biology of the cancer itself. Breast cancers differ in size, location, behavior, and in their genetic and hormonal makeup. Breast cancer is a complex disease, and no 2 breast cancers are the same.

We study the biology of each cancer and customize your breast cancer treatment to your unique needs. This gives us unique expertise to treat breast cancer, patient by patient.

Our team of breast cancer specialists includes breast surgical oncologists, breast medical oncologists and breast radiation oncologists with an extraordinary depth and breadth of experience in diagnosing and treating breast cancer. We create a comprehensive treatment plan tailored to your precise needs and the genetic composition of your particular type of breast cancer.

Tumor grade

Tumor grade describes a tumor based on how abnormal its cells and tissue look under a microscope. It is an indicator of how quickly a tumor is likely to grow and spread.

Grade 1 tumors are generally considered less aggressive. Conversely, the cells and tissue of grade 3 tumors do not look like normal cells and tissue. They tend to grow more rapidly and spread faster than tumors with a lower grade.

Breast cancer staging

Breast cancer is staged based on tumor size, location and the degree to which the cancer has spread, either to the lymph nodes and/or to other parts of the body. Your physician will review your mammogram and other appropriate imaging and conduct a physical examination to determine the clinical stage of your cancer.

  • Stage 0 breast cancer is noninvasive and is described as precancerous. Stage 0 diagnoses include ductal carcinoma in situ and lobular carcinoma in situ. These cancers can become invasive over time if not appropriately treated.
  • Stage 1 cancer means that a tumor is 2 centimeters or smaller and has not spread outside the breast. These cancers are almost always curable.
  • Stage 2 and 3 cancers involve larger tumors with positive lymph nodes. These cancers are often curable.
  • Stage 4 cancer means the disease has spread to other organs, most often the lungs, bones or liver. Stage 4 cancer is also known as metastatic cancer and is treatable but not curable.

Breast cancer hormone receptor status

Estrogen and progesterone are hormones that affect numerous hormonal functions in women, such as breast development. Receptors for these hormones may also be found in breast cancer cells. Testing a tumor for both estrogen and progesterone receptors is a standard part of a breast cancer diagnosis because the results help guide treatment.

Estrogen and progesterone

Breast cancer cells that have estrogen receptors are called ER-positive and those with progesterone receptors are called PR-positive. If tumor cells have neither hormone receptor, they are called hormone receptor-negative or ER-negative and PR-negative. If a tumor is hormone receptor-positive, treatment may include specific medications which block hormone signaling or reduce the body’s natural estrogen production.

HER2-positive breast cancer

The HER2 protein can be present in excess amounts on the surface of the cancer cell. This typically happens when there are too many copies of the HER2 gene in the cell. If a tumor has higher than normal amounts of this protein – also referred to as HER2-positive – treatment may include drugs that target HER2.

Herceptin® (trastuzumab) is known to be effective against tumors controlled by the HER2 gene. Our clinical investigators participate in an array of clinical research trials of drugs targeting HER2-positive breast tumors in early-stage breast cancer as well as metastatic breast cancer.

Triple-negative breast cancer

Triple-negative breast cancer represents between 10% to 20% of all breast cancers. Triple-negative breast cancer can be more aggressive and is more likely to recur than other breast cancers. It derives its name from the lack of receptors for estrogen, progesterone and HER2. Our breast cancer researchers are developing clinical trials to evaluate new treatments for triple-negative disease.

Breast cancer types

Our breast cancer specialists will carefully evaluate your breast imaging and biopsy results to identify the type of cancer you have and determine the most appropriate treatment options.

Ductal carcinoma in situ

Ductal carcinoma in situ occurs when abnormal cells remain inside the milk ducts and do not spread to nearby tissue. DCIS is also known as intraductal carcinoma or pre-invasive breast cancer. DCIS is the earliest stage of breast cancer, stage 0. While DCIS does not typically spread to the lymph nodes or metastasize, it can become invasive over time if not appropriately treated.

Invasive breast cancer

There are 2 types of invasive breast cancer: invasive ductal cancer and invasive lobular cancer.

  • Invasive ductal cancer occurs when cancer cells, which start inside the milk duct, break through the duct wall and grow in the breast’s fatty tissue. These cancer cells tend to grow close together and most often form a lump in the breast tissue. IDC may spread to lymph nodes and other areas of the body. It is the most common type of invasive breast cancer.
  • Invasive lobular cancer occurs when cancer cells in the milk ducts near the milk-producing glands (lobules) break through the wall and grow in the breast’s fatty tissue. Invasive lobular cancer cells tend to grow in single-file lines and often do not form a lump. ILC has the potential to spread to lymph nodes and other parts of the body.

Depending on the size of the tumor and whether it has spread to the lymph nodes or other organs, invasive breast cancers are staged 1, 2, 3 or 4.

Inflammatory breast cancer

Inflammatory breast cancer is an aggressive and rare type of breast cancer. It is often misdiagnosed as a breast infection because the breast appears inflamed or reddish in color. Unlike other types of breast cancer, IBC typically does not present with a lump. IBC is usually diagnosed through a clinical exam, and confirmed with a breast biopsy.

Metastatic breast cancer

Metastatic breast cancer, also known as stage 4 or advanced breast cancer, is breast cancer that has spread beyond the breast and axillary lymph nodes into other parts of the body. MBC may be found at the initial breast cancer diagnosis, or can occur years after the original breast cancer diagnosis and treatment.

Treating metastatic breast cancer is a critical part of our practice. Our physicians, nurses, social workers and other cancer experts provide continuous care, support and assistance. We are dedicated to ensuring that you receive the highest quality and most personalized treatment options available, taking advantage of the full range of services of a nationally ranked cancer center.

While there is no cure for MBC, you can usually receive treatment to help prolong life and improve or maintain a good quality of life. We offer a number of options. You should work with your oncologist to discuss the best treatment plan for your particular needs. We offer clinical trials and innovative treatments not yet available at other cancer centers. Talk to your doctor about what might work best for you.

Breast cancer during pregnancy

Women can be diagnosed with breast cancer during pregnancy. Our breast cancer specialists can help achieve healthy outcomes for pregnant women with breast cancer and their babies. Our team includes some of the most recognized and respected breast cancer oncologists and maternal-fetal specialists in the nation.

Breast cancer in men

Men can be diagnosed with breast cancer, too. We provide care that is dedicated to the unique needs of men. Our specialists will work with you to develop a treatment plan that supports your medical and emotional needs. 

Start your path today.

Your journey to health starts here. Call 913-588-1227 or request an appointment at The University of Kansas Cancer Center.

Related links