Types of breast cancer

There are different types of breast cancer. Knowing the type of breast cancer you have helps your doctors decide on the best treatment for you.

About types of breast cancer

Breast cancer can be non-invasive (also called in situ) or invasive.

Non-invasive breast cancer stays within the ducts or lobules and is called ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS).

Invasive breast cancer is when the cancer cells spread outside the milk ducts or lobules where they first started. Most breast cancers are invasive and can be grouped as:

  • no special type (NST)
  • Invasive lobular breast cancer
  • special types.

Other less common types of invasive breast cancer include:

  • inflammatory breast cancer
  • Paget’s disease of the breast.

Some breast cancers are also identified by whether or not the cancer cells have receptors for hormones or a protein called HER2 (HER2 positive breast cancer).

Breast cancer that does not have receptors for HER2 or hormones is called triple negative breast cancer.

Ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS)

This is the earliest form of breast cancer. In DCIS there are abnormal cells in the ducts of the breast. But these cells are contained (in situ). They have not spread into normal breast tissue.

DCIS may show on a mammogram and is most commonly diagnosed during breast screening.

Lobular carcinoma in situ (LCIS)

LCIS is when there are changes in the cells lining the lobules. It is not breast cancer, but it slightly increases the risk of developing breast cancer later in life. Most people with LCIS do not get breast cancer.

Invasive breast cancer

Invasive breast cancer means the cancer cells have spread outside the lining of the ducts or lobules and into the surrounding breast tissue. There are different types of invasive breast cancer.

No special type (NST)

This is when the cancer cells are examined under the microscope and have no specific features. This is called breast cancer of no special type (NST) or not otherwise specified (NOS).

It is also called invasive ductal carcinoma. It is the most common type of breast cancer. About 7 to 8 in 10 of all breast cancers (70 to 80%) are this type.

Invasive lobular breast cancer

About 1 to 2 in 10 invasive breast cancers (10 to 20%) start in the lobules of the breast. The lobes are where breast milk is made.

The main symptom of invasive lobular breast cancer is usually a thickening or swelling of breast tissue. You may not have a lump. Other symptoms include a:

  • change or dimpling of the skin of the breast
  • nipple turning in (inverted nipple).

This type of breast cancer can be difficult to diagnose on a mammogram because of the way it grows. You may need an MRI scan.

The treatment for invasive lobular breast cancer is the same as for the main type of breast cancer (invasive NST). You will usually have either breast-conserving surgery or a mastectomy. This will depend on the size of the cancer and where it is. Some people may need further treatment after surgery such as:

Lobular Breast Cancer UK is a charity that offers support to people living with lobular breast cancer.

Special types

Some breast cancer cells have features that identify them as a specific type of breast cancer. These are called special type breast cancers. They are named depending on how the cells look under a microscope. The types include tubular, medullary, mucinous and cribriform.

Rarer types include malignant phyllodes and angiosarcoma.

Inflammatory breast cancer

This is when cancer cells spread into and block the tiny channels (lymph vessels) in the skin of the breast. The breast then becomes inflamed and swollen. Inflammatory breast cancer is rare.

Paget’s disease of the breast

This is a condition that causes a red, scaly rash (like eczema) on the skin of the nipple. Women with Paget’s disease of the breast may have DCIS or invasive breast cancer.

About our information

  • Reviewers

    This information has been written, revised and edited by Macmillan Cancer Support’s Cancer Information Development team. It has been reviewed by expert medical and health professionals and people living with cancer. It has been approved by Dr Rebecca Roylance, Consultant Medical Oncologist and Professor Mike Dixon, Professor of Surgery and Consultant Breast Surgeon.

    Our cancer information has been awarded the PIF TICK. Created by the Patient Information Forum, this quality mark shows we meet PIF’s 10 criteria for trustworthy health information.

The language we use

We want everyone affected by cancer to feel our information is written for them.

We want our information to be as clear as possible. To do this, we try to:

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We use gender-inclusive language and talk to our readers as ‘you’ so that everyone feels included. Where clinically necessary we use the terms ‘men’ and ‘women’ or ‘male’ and ‘female’. For example, we do so when talking about parts of the body or mentioning statistics or research about who is affected.

You can read more about how we produce our information here.

Date reviewed

Reviewed: 01 October 2023
Next review: 01 October 2026
Trusted Information Creator - Patient Information Forum
Trusted Information Creator - Patient Information Forum

Our cancer information meets the PIF TICK quality mark.

This means it is easy to use, up-to-date and based on the latest evidence. Learn more about how we produce our information.