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

There are different types of breast cancer. Knowing the type of breast cancer you have helps your doctor to plan the best treatment for you.

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)
  • special types.

Other less common types of invasive breast cancer include:

  • invasive lobular breast cancer
  • 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 cancer 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 up on a mammogram and is commonly diagnosed when women have breast screening.

Some women have abnormal cell changes in the lining of the lobules. This is called lobular carcinoma in situ (LCIS). LCIS is not a cancer. It means a woman has a slightly increased risk of developing breast cancer in later life.

Invasive breast cancer

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

No special type (NST)

This includes ductal invasive breast cancer, which is the most common type of breast cancer. About 7 to 8 out of 10 of all breast cancers (70% to 80%) are this type.

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

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 and are rare. They are named depending on how the cells look under a microscope and include tubular, medullary, mucinous, cribriform.

Malignant phyllodes and angiosarcoma are also included under special types.

Other types of breast cancer

There are some other less common types of invasive breast cancer.

Invasive lobular breast cancer

About 1 in 10 invasive breast cancers (10%) start in the lobes of the breast. This type can sometimes be difficult to diagnose on a mammogram because of the way it grows. Some women may need an MRI scan.

Inflammatory breast cancer

This is when cancer cells grow along 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

  • References

    Below is a sample of the sources used in our breast cancer information. If you would like more information about the sources we use, please contact us at cancerinformationteam@macmillan.org.uk

    European Society for Medical Oncology. Primary breast cancer: ESMO clinical practice guidelines for diagnosis, treatment and follow-up. Annals of oncology 26 (supplement 5): v8–v30. 2015.

    Morrow M, et al. Chapter 79: malignant tumors of the breast. DeVita, Hellman and Rosenberg’s cancer: principals and practice of oncology (10th edition). Lippincott Williams and Wilkins. 2014.

    National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE). Early and locally advanced breast cancer: diagnosis and management. July 2018.

    Scottish Intercollegiate Guidelines Network. SIGN 134. Treatment of primary breast cancer: a national clinical guideline. September 2013.

  • 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 Senior Medical Editor, Dr Rebecca Roylance, Consultant Medical Oncologist.

    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.

Date reviewed

Reviewed: 31 October 2018
Next review: 30 April 2021

This content is currently being reviewed. New information will be coming soon.

Trusted Information Creator - Patient Information Forum
Trusted Information Creator - Patient Information Forum

Our cancer information meets the PIF TICK quality mark.

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