If a biopsy confirms that a breast lump is cancerous, its stage of development will play an important role in treatment and recovery. Different kinds of cancers grow at different rates. In general, the smaller the cancer found, the less likely that the cancer has spread to other parts of the body.
The extent to which the cancer has spread (also called metastasis) is determined at the time of diagnosis. The spread of breast cancer can be described in three ways. Cancer limited to the breast area only is called local disease. Regional disease means that cancer involves only the lymph nodes. Cancer that has spread to the lungs, liver, bone or other parts of the body is called distant spread or systemic disease.
In general, treatment is much more effective during the early stages of breast cancer before it has spread to the lymph nodes. That is why it is vital that you seek immediate medical help for any lump or change in your breasts.
DCIS (Ductal Carcinoma In Situ)
This is the most common type of cancer found on a mammogram today, as well as the most commonly diagnosed cancer at our center. Early breast cancer is also known as breast cancer in situ or noninvasive cancer. On a mammogram, DCIS usually is identified by the presence of small, white calcifications or calcium deposits, which appear as clusters of dots.
DCIS is a collection of abnormal cells that are found only in the lining of the milk duct of the breast. These abnormal cells have not spread outside of the duct. They have also not spread within the breast, beyond the breast, to the lymph nodes or under the arm, or to other parts of the body. This form of cancer is usually 100 percent curable. There are several different types of DCIS, and the treatment is individualized for each form of this disease.
Invasive Ductal Carcinoma
This is a common type of breast cancer that is characterized by the presence of actual tumors. If these tumors are large, they can be detected during a breast examination as stony, hard lumps that are often attached to the skin or the chest wall. If small, these lumps are usually moveable. These small cancers can be found early through mammography or ultrasound.
Inflammatory Breast Cancer
This is a rare, serious and aggressive type of breast cancer. With this type of breast cancer, the breast may look red and feel warm. You may see ridges, welts or hives on your breasts, or the skin may look wrinkled. The physical symptoms of this cancer are similar to those of mastitis. Contact your doctor the first day you notice these symptoms.
If a cancer is referred to as recurrent disease, this means that the cancer has come back (or recurred) after it has been treated. The cancer may return in the breast, in the soft tissue of the chest (the chest wall) or in another part of the body. Therefore, it is important for a woman who has had a mastectomy to examine both her treated mastectomy site and her other breast.
If she has had conservative treatment, she should examine the lumpectomy site and the surrounding breast as well as the unaffected breast. In addition, continued physician examinations and mammograms are needed for surveillance.