About Breast Cancer

Breasts are complex organs that have the ability to produce milk. Milk-producing glands (lobules) are linked by small tubes called ducts. These glands are responsive to female hormones, including estrogen and progesterone.

Types of Breast Cancer

Most cancers begin in the milk ducts (ductal cancer) or milk-producing glands (lobular cancer).

  • Non-invasive, or in situ, breast cancer means the cancer cells are confined to one place. They have not spread to tissue surrounding the lobule or duct.
  • Ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS) is confined to the lining of the milk ducts. Lobular carcinoma in situ is confined to the milk-producing glands.
  • Invasive, or infiltrating, breast cancer means the cancer has spread to surrounding tissue and could spread to other parts of the body. Invasive breast cancer can also be ductal, lobular or one of several more less common types.

Common Tests

If your doctor suspects you have breast cancer, testing can help determine tumor location and type.

  • Biopsy. A biopsy removes tissue or lymph nodes for testing to determine if the cancer has spread. There are different types of biopsies. The doctor selects the one to use based on the patient’s condition and the area of the body involved.
  • Genetic testing. Researchers have identified two breast and ovarian cancer genes, BRCA 1 and BRCA 2. Gene testing is available to people who meet certain criteria. It’s typically performed using a sample of blood, hair, skin or other tissue. A doctor or nurse can determine if you are a candidate for genetic testing.

  • Receptor Stains. Special stains can help identify the presence of estrogen or progesterone receptors that may indicate whether hormones could stimulate the tumor to grow. The staining process is performed on cancer tissue removed during a biopsy. The doctor will refer to the tumor as estrogen (ER) and or progesterone (PR) positive. If it is positive, the doctor may prescribe anti-hormonal therapy to stop the hormones from stimulating the cancer cells.

  • HER2 receptor test. HER2 is a protein that helps control cell growth and repair. High levels of HER2 may indicate the tumor is more likely to grow quickly, but also means it may respond well to anti-HER2 therapy. HER2 receptor determination requires a special type of laboratory test. The test is performed on cancer tissue taken during a biopsy. The doctor will refer to the test results as HER2 positive or negative.
    • Triple negative is a sub-type of breast cancer in which estrogen, progesterone and HER2 receptors are all negative. It’s considered an aggressive form of breast cancer that may require different treatment.

Oncotype DX. An Oncotype DX test looks at gene activity in breast tumor tissue. It is performed on cancer tissue taken during a biopsy. The test is performed when estrogen receptors are positive and the lymph nodes are negative. The test helps determine whether adding chemotherapy to hormonal treatment will be beneficial.

Speak with our breast care navigator by calling 816-346-7632.

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Breast Basics