Key Points about Invasive Breast Cancer

  • Invasive breast cancer begins in the breast and spreads to other areas of the body.
  • Doctors use biopsy and imaging tests to diagnose invasive breast cancer.
  • Treatment for invasive breast cancer may include surgery, chemotherapy and radiation therapy.
  • Following your doctor’s recommendation for starting regular mammograms is one of the best ways to reduce your risk of developing breast cancer.


Breast cancer is cancer that begins in the breast tissue. Invasive breast cancer occurs when the cancer spreads to surrounding areas. The two most common types of invasive breast cancer are:

  • Invasive ductal carcinoma (IDC) - about 80 percent of invasive breast cancers are this type. IDC begins in a milk duct of the breast and then breaks through the breast wall and into nearby tissue. From there, it can spread to other areas of the body through the bloodstream and lymph system.
  • Invasive lobular carcinoma (ILC) - about 10 percent of invasive breast cancers are this type. ILC begins in a lobule, which is the milk-producing glands of the breast. Roughly 20 percent of women who have ILC have cancer in both breasts. ILC can be harder to detect and diagnose using imaging tests and physical exam.

Invasive breast cancer causes

Breast cancer is caused by mutations (changes) to the DNA of the cells of the breast. Breast cancer is said to become invasive when it spreads beyond the breast and into other areas of the body.

Invasive breast cancer risk factors

The following factors may increase your risk for developing invasive breast cancer:

  • Being Caucasian
  • Being obese
  • Being older, especially over age 55
  • Having a family history of breast cancer
  • Having children when you are older than 35
  • Having dense breasts
  • Never having had children

Invasive breast cancer symptoms

Signs and symptoms of invasive breast cancer may include:

  • A change in the shape or size of a breast
  • A lump in the breast or underarm area
  • A marble-like hardened area of skin on or around the breast
  • Change in shape or position of a nipple
  • Discharge from the nipple that is bloody or clear
  • Nipple retraction, meaning that it’s pushed in rather than sticking out
  • Red or scaly breast skin or nipple
  • Skin of the breast that is dimpled or puckered
  • Swelling in the breast

Invasive breast cancer diagnosis

Your oncologist may use one or more of the following tests to diagnose this condition:

  • Biopsy - in this test, your doctor removes a biopsy (small tissue sample) from the suspicious area. This sample is sent to the laboratory, where a specialist closely checks the biopsy for abnormalities.
  • Computerized tomography (CT) scan - this type of imaging test provides a 3-D image of the inside of the body that your doctor can use to determine if there is any cancer present.
  • Imaging tests - imaging tests can see if cancer has spread to other areas. Imaging tests create detailed images of the inside of your body. Your doctor can closely examine these images taken through a bone scan, X-ray, CT scan and PET scan to look for any areas that could indicate cancer.
  • Receptor testing - these tests can help identify estrogen receptors, progesterone receptors and HER2 status.

Invasive breast cancer treatments

Depending on your personal health history, the extent of your invasive breast cancer and other factors, your oncologist may recommend one or more of the following treatment options:

  • Surgery - in most cases, your doctor will recommend a surgical procedure to remove the cancerous area. Your surgeon will work to preserve as much surrounding healthy tissue as possible. In some cases, you may opt to undergo reconstructive surgery following surgery to treat breast cancer.
  • Radiation therapy - this treatment uses high-powered energy beams to destroy cancerous cells. You may need to undergo radiation therapy to destroy any cancerous cells that couldn’t be removed surgically or for cancer that has spread beyond the breast.
  • Chemotherapy - for cancer that has spread beyond the initial site of the cancer, your doctor may recommend that you undergo chemotherapy. During this treatment, medication is used to destroy cancerous cells. Chemotherapy can be taken via an oral (by mouth) pill or intravenously (through a vein).
  • Hormone therapy - if the cancer has a hormone receptor, then your oncologist may recommend hormone therapy.
  • Targeted therapy - some cancers can have a specific gene – such as HER2 – and oncologists can use targeted therapy to treat these cancers.

When should I seek care?

If you experience any of these symptoms, start by voicing your concerns and symptoms to your primary care provider. From there, your doctor may suggest seeing an oncologist for more specialized treatment.

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