Types of Breast Cancer and Their Symptoms

Breast Cancer

Breast cancer is a disease that occurs due to uncontrolled breast cell division. According to breastcancer.org, on average, a woman has 1 in 8 chance of developing breast cancer over an 80-year old lifespan. On the other hand, 7 in 8 women have no chance of developing breast cancer.

The breast is made up of lobules (milk glands), ducts and connective tissue. The milk glands produce milk, the ducts carry the milk to the nipple, and the connective tissue surrounds and connects everything together. Breast cancer usually begins in the lobules or ducts.

Breast cancer type depends on which cells in the breast become cancerous. According to cancer.org, 81% of breast cancers are invasive, which means the abnormal cells have broken through the walls of the glands or ducts from where they originated and have grown into the surrounding breast tissue. Breast cancer was referred as a single disease earlier, but now it is considered a group of diseases depending on the type of tissue in which cancer originates. The cancer would differ based on risk factors, presentation, response to treatment, and outcomes.

Invasive Breast Cancer Symptoms:

  • You can feel a lump or mass in the breast.
  • Even if there is no lump, swelling occurs on all areas or different parts of the breast.
  • Nipple/breast pain.
  • Nipple turning inward.
  • Nipple discharge.
  • Skin irritation.
  • The nipple or breast skin appears red, scaly or thickened.
  • A lump or swelling may occur in the underarm lymph nodes.

Different kinds of breast cancer show different kinds of symptoms. For instance, invasive ductal carcinoma (IDC) is formed in the milk ducts and the cancer cells grow outside the ducts into other parts of the breast tissue. This may cause a distinct breast lump that you can feel. In invasive lobular carcinoma (ILC), which is formed in milk-producing glands, there is thickening in the breast, and the cancer cells spread from milk glands or lobules to the surrounding breast tissues.

The common types of breast cancer

  • Invasive lobular carcinoma: The cancer cells that originates from the lobules spread to the nearby breast tissues and also to other parts of the body.
  • Invasive ductal carcinoma: This disease starts in the milk ducts and spreads to the fatty tissue of the breast outside the ducts. It accounts for 80% of invasive breast cancers.
  • Ductal carcinoma in situ: This is the most common type of non-invasive breast cancer. It is characterized by cancerous cells that are restricted to the lining of the milk ducts and have not spread through the duct walls into surrounding breast tissue. If the ductal carcinoma in situ lesions are left untreated, it will become invasive breast cancer over time because cancer cells may break through the duct and spread to close-by tissue. Most cases are detected with a mammogram.

    Symptoms:

    • Does not cause any symptoms.
    • Rarely, you can feel a lump in the breast.
    • Rarely, nipple discharge.

  • Lobular carcinoma in situ: Lobular carcinoma begins in the lobules but does not spread through the wall of the lobules to the surrounding breast tissue or other parts of the body. It is not actually cancer, but for about 25% of women, its presence will lead to the development of breast cancer at some point. Frequent screening is required.

    Symptoms:

    • Normally does not cause any symptoms and cannot be seen in a mammogram.
    • Usually found when a doctor is doing a breast biopsy to investigate an unrelated breast lump.
    • The breast cells will appear abnormal when examined under a microscope.


  • Rare Types of Breast Cancer

  • Inflammatory breast cancer: This often starts in soft tissues of the breast. It causes the lymph vessels in the skin of the breast to become blocked. The breast become firm, tender, itchy, red and warm due. This increases blood flow and build-up WBC.

    Symptoms:

    • Rarely causes breast lumps and may not appear in mammogram or ultrasounds.
    • Breast become firm, tender, itchy, red and warm.
    • Heaviness, burning or aching in one breast.
    • Inverted nipple.
    • Swollen lymph nodes under the arm and or above the collarbone.



    A self-breast exam, clinical breast-exam, ultrasounds or even mammogram may not detect this type of breast cancer. However, the changes to the surface of the breast caused by inflammatory breast cancer can be seen by the naked eye.

  • Metastatic breast cancer: Also known as stage IV or advanced breast cancer. It is the breast cancer that has spread to other organs of the body. It can affect commonly lung, liver, bone and brain.

    Symptoms:

    • Sometimes it does not cause any symptoms.
    • May be found in lymph nodes in the armpit or can travel to anywhere in the body.
    • Can occur pain, nipple discharge, lump or thickening in the breast or underarm if the breast or chest wall is affected.
    • Can cause pain, fractures, constipation, decreased alertness due to increased calcium level, if bones are affected.
    • Can cause nausea, extreme fatigue, swelling of the feet and hand, if liver is affected.
    • Shortness of breath, coughing, chest wall pain, fatigue, if the tumor forms in the lungs.
    • Can cause pain, confusion, memory loss, headache, blurred, difficulty in speech, movements or seizures if cancer spreads to the brain, spinal cord and forms tumors.

  • Papillary carcinoma: The cancer cells are arranged in finger-like projections or papules. The condition is treated same like invasive ductal carcinoma. A routine mammogram can detect the development of papillary carcinoma.

    Symptoms:

    • A lump about 2 to 3 cm in size which can be detected during a breast self-exam.
    • 50% of papillary carcinomas occur under nipple, resulting in bloody nipple discharge.

  • Triple-negative breast cancer: This type of breast cancer does not have any of the receptors such as estrogen, progesterone and HER2 protein that are commonly found in other breast cancers. This means hormone therapy, a traditional breast cancer treatment, would not be effective. Instead, it would require chemotherapy, targeted therapy and radiation.

    Symptoms:

    • A lump or mass in the breast.
    • Breast pain or redness.
    • Nipple turns inward.
    • Nipple discharge.

  • Paget’s disease of the breast: This form of breast cancer causes eczema-like changes to the skin on the nipple and areola. It forms less than 3 percent of all breast cancers.

    Symptoms:

    • Eczema-like changes on the nipple and areola.
    • Nipple discharge.
    • Inverted nipples.
    • Painful and burning sensation especially in advanced stages of the disease.
    • Redness, lump, oozing, sores that do not heal.

  • Male breast cancer: Breast cancer can occur for men when malignant cells form in the tissues of the breast. It usually occurs in the 60-70 age group. About 1 percent of all breast cancers occur in men.

    Symptoms:

    • A lump or swelling which is often painless.
    • Skin dimpling or puckering.
    • Nipple retraction.
    • Redness or scaling of the nipple or breast skin.
    • Nipple discharge.

Some types of breast cancer don’t show any symptoms or may not be detected in a mammogram or ultrasound. It is very important to self-examine your breasts every day. If you find any changes, signs or symptoms in your breasts that worry you, consult your doctor as soon as possible.

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