Questions for your Breast Cancer Specialists:
- What is invasive breast cancer?
- What type of breast cancer do I have?
- What is the chance I will die of my breast cancer?
- What are my receptor results?
- May I have a copy of my pathology report?
- Do I qualify for genetic testing?
What is invasive breast cancer?
Invasive breast cancer is defined by breast cells that grow abnormally fast and have developed the ability to spread beyond the breast to other parts of the body. It can take years for breast cells to slowly develop the genetic changes (mutations) to change from a normal cell to an invasive cancer cell. But once they do, some spread more rapidly and others grow very slowly and may not spread at all beyond the breast. Invasive breast cancer can threaten your life.
“Non-invasive” breast cancer are cells that also grow abnormally fast, but cannot yet spread beyond the breast to threaten someone’s life. Ductal Carcinoma In-Situ (DCIS) is an example of non-invasive breast cancer and is generally categorized under “breast cancer” by most organizations. It is covered in our “Non-invasive DCIS” lesson and is more of a “pre-cancerous” condition.
Important facts if you have an Invasive Breast Cancer:
- Treatments can cure 90% of all women with breast cancer
- The majority of all patients are diagnosed at an early stage
- Surgery, hormonal therapy, chemotherapy, and radiation are treatment options
- You have time before choosing a treatment pathway
- You may qualify for genetic testing
Types of invasive breast cancer:
Infiltrating Ductal Carcinoma is the most common (70%) type of invasive breast cancer. It is called “ductal” because the cancer cells originate from the cells lining the milk ducts. There are many other factors beyond “type” of cancer that are important.
Infiltrating Lobular Carcinoma occurs in less than 20% of patients. It is called “lobular” because the cells originate from the “lobules” of the milk ducts. Lobular cancers are no worse or better than invasive ductal cancers from a survival perspective. There are some unique features of lobular cancers that can affect diagnosis and treatment. Ask you physician how an invasive lobular carcinoma is different from an invasive ductal carcinoma.
Other types: Inflammatory Breast Cancer (5%) is a very aggressive cancer. Colloid and Mucinous (3%) are considered less aggressive breast cancers and carry a lower risk to one’s health. There are other less common types of invasive breast cancer that we have not covered.
What is the chance I will die of my cancer?
Most women just diagnosed with breast cancer have no idea how much of a risk to their life their unique situation poses. Any invasive breast cancer does impart some level of risk to your life. However, this risk is usually less than you would assume.
The average 5-year “survival rate” for all people with breast cancer is 89%. The 10-year rate is 83%, and the 15-year rate is 78%. If the cancer is located only in the breast (Stage I), the 5-year survival rate is 99%. More than 70% of breast cancers are diagnosed at an Early Stage (Stages I & II).
Why are “receptors” important?
Receptors are tiny proteins on the surface of the cells that act like “light switches” that can turn on and off cancer cell growth. The Estrogen receptor (ER), Progesterone receptor (PR) and HER2 receptor results are incredibly important for you to know and understand. There are great treatments available for all combinations of cancer receptor types. This information is critical in guiding you to therapies that may be needed before or after surgery, such as chemotherapy or hormonal therapy. You should try to understand this aspect of your cancer care from the outset. Take our lesson on “My Tumor Receptors” to learn the essentials.
How do you treat invasive breast cancer?
The most common first treatment for early stage invasive breast cancer is surgery, possibly followed by chemotherapy, radiation therapy, and then hormonal therapy. Breast cancer treatment is incredibly complex and there can be many different approaches to the same type of breast cancer. There are some situations that are better treated by “neoadjuvant chemotherapy” as a first treatment rather than surgery. The Breast Cancer School for Patients was created to help you to make the best treatment decisions with your breast specialists in your community.
How urgent is it to treat my breast cancer?
You have time if you have early stage cancer. Gather all the needed information about your unique breast cancer situation and then map out the very best plan with your breast cancer specialists. If you or your physician rush this process, then you run the risk of starting your treatment in the wrong direction. There are a few situations that make starting treatment more urgent. One is Inflammatory Breast Cancer which is felt to be a rapidly growing cancer. Initiating chemotherapy as soon as possible is the best approach in women with this uncommon, but life-threatening type of breast cancer.
You may qualify for genetic testing
Invasive breast cancer is known to be associated with the BRCA gene mutation. The BRCA (Breast Cancer) gene is commonly referred to as “The Breast Cancer Gene.” If someone inherits a broken version (mutation) of this gene at conception, they carry a very high lifetime risk of breast cancer and ovarian cancer. Most breast cancers are not the result of the BRCA mutation. In fact, it is estimated that the BRCA and similar genetic mutations cause only 10 to 15% of all breast cancers. It is important to ask your physicians if you meet the guidelines for genetic counseling and testing. Take our “BRCA Genetic Testing“ lesson (here) to learn more.
These detailed treatment outlines (here) are written specifically for patients. Choose the brochure that best reflects your own unique situation. The NCCN is a consortium of organizations and governmental agencies to promote quality breast cancer care.
This page (here) on “Invasive Breast Cancer” is excellent. The Susan G. Komen organization is a leading advocacy group dedicated to assisting patients, funding research, and ensuring quality breast cancer care.
An outline of “Types of Breast Cancer” is located (here). The American Cancer Society is an organization that supports patients with cancer and funds research for cancer of all types.
This video for patients from Myriad Genetics is an excellent overview about genetic testing, BRCA mutations, and how they are managed.
To view the video click on the image or (here). Myriad Genetics is global leader in genetic testing and personalized medicine.
More Detailed References:
This treatment decision diagram (here) is for invasive breast cancer. It simplifies almost everything into an easy to understand format. The M.D. Anderson Cancer Center is located in Houston, Texas and is one of the leading cancer centers in the world.
- NCCN Breast Cancer Clinical Practice Guidelines nccn.org
If you want to get deep into the details, this free 200-page pdf document has guidelines to help clinicians to make treatment recommendations about nearly all aspects of breast cancer. You can easily register (here) as a non-professional to get access.