types of

breast cancer

Once you have a diagnosis of advanced breast cancer, it is likely that you will be fully aware of the type of breast cancer you have and its hormone status. However, some people get diagnosed many years later and may not remember all the details of their primary diagnosis. Around 6% of people receive the news that their cancer has spread at the same time as discovering they have breast cancer. Your treatment options may be affected by the type of cancer you have so we have included a short section on the most common types of breast cancer below.

Types of invasive breast cancer

Invasive Ductal

Invasive ductal carcinoma is the most common type of invasive breast cancer, responsible for almost 75% of cases. IDC starts in the milk ducts and invades the surrounding tissue. IDC develops as a hard lump with irregular borders that usually shows up as a spiked mass on a mammogram.


Invasive lobular carcinoma develops in the milk producing glands (lobules) of the breast. It is the second most common type of breast cancer accounting for 10-15% of all cases. ILC usually shows up as an abnormal feeling breast, most often a thickening, and not as a hard mass that can be felt. ILC is less likely to be detected on a mammogram than invasive ductal carcinoma.


Inflammatory breast cancer 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 and may feel warm and tender to the touch. The skin may also appear pitted like the skin of an orange. It is a fast growing type of breast cancer which accounts for between 1-4% of all breast cancers.

Breast cancer cells often have receptors to which hormones or other proteins can attach. These receptors can stimulate the cancer to grow and treatments can be tailored to slow down or stop the growth. It is likely that a biopsy will have been done on your primary tumour to determine the biological status of your cancer. Occasionally when someone is diagnosed with advanced breast cancer, the status may change. Depending on the location of your secondary tumour, it is possible that your team may recommend that another biopsy is performed.


Hormone Receptor Positive

Around 70% of all breast cancers are fuelled by the female hormones oestrogen (ER+) and progesterone (PR+). Hormone receptor positive breast cancer is the most common type of breast cancer accounting for around 70% of all breast cancers.

HER2 Positive

Some breast cancers have high numbers of receptors for the protein HER2 (human epidermal growth factor 2). They are called HER2 positive breast cancers. About 15% of people have HER2 positive cancer.

Triple Negative

If the cancer does not have receptors for either HER2 or the hormones oestrogen and progesterone, it is called triple negative breast cancer. It affects up to 20% of those diagnosed with breast cancer and tends to be more common in younger women. 




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