“The test came back positive. You have breast cancer.”

These words can turn your world upside down. Dealing with cancer can cause a person to unravel and struggle physically, emotionally, and financially. If you’ve seen a close friend or family member deal with breast cancer, the possibility of being affected one day may be troubling. But breast cancer does not have to put a period on your life; if discovered in the early stages, there is a high chance of survival. Awareness is key in understanding the various symptoms and reaching out to medical help in time. In the coming days, we bring you a series of articles that’ll help you understand the different types of breast cancer. Today we look at how the different types are categorized.

But first, what is breast cancer?

Cancer is the name given to the condition where cells grow uncontrollably due to gene mutations. When cancer develops in the breast, it is called breast cancer.

Breast cancer usually occurs in the lobules, which are milk-producing glands, and ducts, which are the pathways that bring milk from the gland to the nipple. It is also sometimes observed in the fibrous connective tissue or the fatty tissue in the breast.

Cancer cells, if not treated, can invade the surrounding tissue and lymph nodes. The lymph nodes are how the cancer cells travel to other parts of the body.

Breast cancer can be broadly categorized into two: invasive and non-invasive.

Invasive cancer refers to the cancers that spread from the ducts or glands to the other parts of the breast. Non-invasive or in-situ cancer refers to cancer that is confined to the tissue of its origin and does not spread. Most common breast cancers fall into these categories.

Most common types of breast cancers

  • Ductal Carcinoma- in situ: This type of cancer originates and is confined to the ducts in the breast. It is a non-invasive condition.
  • Invasive Ductal carcinoma: Invasive ductal carcinoma originates in the ducts of the breasts and invades nearby healthy tissues. It is the most common type of breast cancer.
  • Lobular carcinoma – in situ: This type of cancer originates and is confined in the glands where the breast milk is produced. It is a non-invasive condition.
  • Invasive Lobular carcinoma: This type of cancer originates in the breast lobules and then invades nearby tissues.

Rare types of breast cancer

  • Paget disease of the nipple: This rare cancer originates at the ducts of the nipple, grows, and over time affects the areola and skin of the nipple.
  • Phyllodes tumor: When cancer grows in the connective tissue of the breast, it is called a phyllodes tumor. It is rare and mostly benign.
  • Angiosarcoma: It is cancer that occurs in the lymph vessels or blood vessels in the breast.
  • Inflammatory Breast Cancer: Inflammatory type of breast cancer creates blockages in the lymph nodes near the breast. Due to these blocks, the lymph vessels can’t drain completely, which leads to swollen, reddish, warm breasts.

When it turns cancerous, the breast can look like an orange peel, pitted and thick. While this is a very uncommon cancer, it is aggressive and requires immediate treatment.

  • Metastatic Breast Cancer: It is the name given to stage IV breast cancer. By stage IV, the disease will have progressed and spread to other internal organs like the bones, lungs, or liver. The chances of getting metastatic breast cancer are reduced to 30% for women who had discovered and treated cancer in early stages before.
  • Triple-Negative Breast Cancer: This rare type of breast cancer gets its name due to the characteristics of the tumor. The tumor lacks estrogen receptors, progesterone receptors, and additional HER2 proteins on its surface. It is aggressive and complicated to treat.
  • Recurrent Breast Cancer: When breast cancer affects you again after being treated once already, it is called recurrent breast cancer. It usually occurs when the initial surgery doesn’t entirely remove the cancerous cells. Often this happens when the diagnosis fails to detect cancer cells. Even a single free cell can cause recurrent breast cancer in time. This condition can affect the same or the opposite breast or chest wall.

Molecular Subtypes of Breast Cancer

Depending upon the type of cancer cell present and how they behave, breast cancer can be classified into four primary molecular subtypes. They are defined by the proteins involved and the hormone receptors in them. The four types are

  • Luminal A or HR+/HER2- (HR-positive/HER2-negative),
  • Luminal B or HR+/HER2+ (HR-positive/HER2-positive),
  • Triple-negative, or HR-/HER2- (HR/HER2-negative), and
  • HER2-positive.

Male Breast Cancer

Though breast cancer is often associated with women, men too can be affected by breast cancer. Men have very little breast tissue compared to women. However, if it occurs, male breast cancer shows similar symptoms as seen in women. It has similar treatment and recovery rates.

These are the main types of breast cancer. They might seem overwhelmingly scary, but breast cancers are treatable and have very high recovery rates. It is, however, important to reach out to a doctor as soon as you detect an abnormality. Check your breasts often to rule out the presence of any lumps. Some most common symptoms include:

  • A sudden and unexplained change in the breast shape or size
  • A lump in the breast or under your arms
  • Flaky or peeling of skin on nipple or breast
  • Swelling in part or all of the breast
  • Unusual discharge from the best that may include blood

If you find any of these symptoms, it doesn’t necessarily mean breast cancer. However, you must see your doctor as early as possible to rule out any cause for concern. With so many breakthroughs in oncology treatment, breast cancer has become a very manageable disease. Not losing hope is the first step.