Invasive Breast Cancer
What is Invasive Breast Cancer?
Invasive breast cancer occurs when cancer cells within the breast lobules or ducts spread out to affect other parts of the breast tissue.
The cancer can further grow into nearby lymph nodes and spread to other parts of the body. Advanced breast cancer that spreads from the breasts and attacks other organs such as the brain, lungs, bones or liver are diagnosed as stage IV cancer or termed as metastatic breast cancer.
Types of Invasive Breast Cancers
There are two common types of invasive breast cancers:
- Invasive ductal carcinoma (IDC) or infiltrating ductal carcinoma, which originates in the breast milk ducts. This is the most common form of invasive breast cancer.
- Invasive lobular carcinoma (ILC), which originates in the breast lobules
Other rare invasive breast cancers include:
- Inflammatory breast cancer: an aggressive breast cancer that is characterised by inflammation in the form of swelling and redness of the breast. The cancer grows and spreads very fast, with symptoms worsening within days, sometimes even hours.
- Paget disease of the breast: cancer that starts in the milk ducts around the nipples and spreads to the nipples and areola, causing redness, itching and scaly skin.
- Metaplastic breast cancer: cancer characterised by tumour cells that differ from other breast cancer cells, making detection difficult.
Symptoms of Invasive Breast Cancer
Breast cancer does not show any symptoms at its initial stages. As the cancer grows, the symptoms may include:
- A lump in or around the breast, or in the underarm
- Hard region under the skin
- Changes in the shape, contour or size of the breast
- Changes in the appearance or feel of the breast skin – formation of scales, inflammation, dimpled or puckered skin
- Changes in the position or shape of the nipple
- Bloody or clear fluid discharge from the nipple
Diagnosis of Invasive Breast Cancer
Changes in the breast can be detected during a regular monthly self-exam that you can do at your home. When you visit the clinic with the symptoms of invasive breast cancer, your doctor will review your history and perform a through physical examination of your breasts for lumps and lymph nodes in your armpit and neck for swelling and enlargement. Your doctor will order a mammogram (X-ray of the breasts), ultrasound and a biopsy. You will also be tested for hormone receptors - oestrogen and progesterone - and the gene HER2. This helps in planning your treatment.
Left untreated, invasive breast cancer can spread to other organs and can be life-threatening.
Treatment of Breast Cancer
Your treatment plan is designed based on your overall health, type of breast cancer, size, stage and whether the cells are sensitive to hormones. The different treatment options include:
Breast cancer can be treated with the surgical removal of the cancer and may include the following options:
- Lumpectomy: removal of the tumour along with a small margin of healthy tissue
- Mastectomy: removal of the entire breast tissue. For aesthetical reasons, a breast-conserving surgery may be performed:
- Skin-sparing mastectomy: most of the breast skin is left intact to allow for reconstruction of the breast
- Nipple-sparing mastectomy: breast skin along with the nipple and areola are left intact to allow for reconstruction of the breast
- Sentinel node biopsy: removal of lymph nodes closest to the tumour to determine the spread of the cancer
- Axillary lymph node dissection: further removal of lymph nodes in your armpit
- Contralateral prophylactic mastectomy: removal of both breasts – the breast with cancer as well as the healthy breast to avoid the risk of developing cancer in the other breast as well
The cancer cells can be killed with high-energy radiation. The radiation can be given by external beam radiation or brachytherapy, where a radioactive substance is placed inside your body.
The cancer cells can be destroyed with drugs.
Breast cancers sensitive to hormones can be treated by administering medication that
- Block hormones from attaching to the cancer cells
- Inhibit the body from making oestrogen after menopause
- Inhibit the production of hormones by the ovaries
Targeted therapy involves the administration of certain drugs that act on specific properties of the cancer cells, such as a specific protein that the cancer cells produce to proliferate.
Palliative or Supportive Care
Palliative care is a specialised field of cancer care that concentrates on relieving pain and other symptoms of breast cancer. A team of doctors work with you and your family, to support and complement your ongoing treatment, and help improve your quality of life.
A combination of these treatments may be recommended to achieve the best outcome.
New and advanced therapies are helping breast cancer patients survive longer than before. However, your prognosis depends on many factors such as the size, stage and type, your age and overall health. There are chances of the cancer reoccurring.