Types & Stages of Breast Cancer

There are many different types of breast cancer as well as different stages of breast cancer. The type and stage of breast cancer you have will determine the type of treatment you should receive. Possessing a full understanding of the type and stage of breast cancer you have will allow you to make the most optimal treatment choices for a smooth recovery.

Breast cancer is generally classified into two types of cancer, namely Non-Invasive Breast Cancer and Invasive Breast Cancer. The most common type of breast cancer is carcinomas. Carcinomas start in cells of the epithelial tissues of the skin or the lining of the internal organs. The name of a cancer indicates how it originates or forms and how far it has spread.

Non-Invasive Breast Cancer

Non-Invasive Breast Cancer is confined within the milk ducts or lobules in the breast and do not grow beyond the breast. Ductal Carcinoma in Situ (DCIS) also known as intraductal carcinoma is the most common form of Non-Invasive Breast Cancer. 

DCIS starts in the milk ducts, and as it grows, the centre of the tumour begins to die as it outgrows its blood supply. The area of dead tissue can calcify making it easily identifiable in a mammogram. According to the American Cancer Society, nearly all women with this early stage of breast cancer can be cured.[1] DCIS is also known as a pre-invasive cancer, as it can spread outside of breast if left untreated. 

Invasive Breast Cancer

Invasive Breast Cancer grows into other normal tissues and has spread beyond the lobule or duct. The most common type of invasive cancer, accounting for about 80% of cases is Infiltrating Ductal Carcinoma (IDC). [2] The tumour starts in the cells that line a milk duct in the breast and over time spreads into normal breast tissue. It may also spread to other parts of your body through the bloodstream and lymph system.

Image Source: http://www.nationalbreastcancer.org/types-of-breast-cancer

Stages of Breast Cancer

After a patient is diagnosed with breast cancer, the next thing a doctor would usually do is to determine if the cancer has spread, and if so, how far. This process is known as staging. The stage of your breast cancer provides a universal language for doctors, surgeons and oncologists to immediately identify if your cancer is invasive or non-invasive, how many lymph nodes it involves, how far along the cancer has progressed, and helps as a guide for your treatment process.

Breast cancer stages are expressed on a scale of 0 to IV (0 to 4). Stage 0 means that the cancer is non-invasive and has not spread. Stage IV indicates that the cancer is invasive and has spread to other parts of the body. The lower the stage of cancer, the more optimistic the prognosis (outlook) will be.

Cancer Size & Grade

The size of the cancer is measured at its widest point, usually in millimetres (mm). More often than not, smaller sized cancers have a better outcome than larger sized cancers. However, size alone isn’t everything. How fast the cancer is growing or progressing would be a major concern and factor to consider in your cancer treatment plan. Cancers sometimes may be localised in one area or sometimes grow in multiple parts of the breast, in which case each area is measured.

There are 3 grades of cancer, Grade 1 – Grade 3.  The grading serves as a score to indicate how different the cancer cells appear compared to normal breast cells and how fast they are growing. The table below from BreastCancerCare.Org.UK provides a brief description of each grade:

Grade 1 – Looks most like normal breast cells and is usually slow-growing.
Grade 2 – Looks like normal cells and is growing faster.
Grade 3 – Looks different to normal cells and is usually fast-growing.
There’s a lot of information to take in when it comes to understanding the type, stage, grade and size of your breast cancer.  Find out as much as you can to fully grasp your medical situation and discuss it with your healthcare provider. All of these factors combined with other considerations such as age, will determine the type of treatment plan you choose which is best suited to treat your cancer according to your personal values and lifestyle.


1) American Cancer Society, Types of Cancer – Ductal Carcinoma in Situ https://www.cancer.org/cancer/breast-cancer/understanding-a-breast-cancer-diagnosis/types-of-breast-cancer/dcis.html 

2) OncoLink – Screening Diagnosishttps://www.oncolink.org/cancers/breast/screening-diagnosis/understanding-your-pathology-report-breast-cancer

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