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Breast Cancer Health Center

Ductal Carcinoma (Invasive and In Situ)

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What is invasive ductal carcinoma?

Invasive ductal carcinoma accounts for about 80% of all invasive breast cancers in women and 90% in males with breast cancer.

Like ductal carcinoma in situ, it begins in the milk ducts of the breast. But unlike DCIS, invasive ductal carcinoma is not contained. Instead, it grows through the duct walls and into the surrounding breast tissue. And it can metastasize. That means it can spread to other areas of your body.

How is invasive ductal carcinoma diagnosed?

Invasive ductal carcinoma may cause a hard, immovable lump with irregular edges to form in your breast. That lump can be felt during a breast examination. In some cases, the cancer causes the nipple to become inverted. A mammogram may show areas of calcification where calcium has collected in old cancer cells.

If your physical exam and mammogram indicate you may have invasive ductal carcinoma, your doctor may order a biopsy to obtain cells for analysis. The results of this test will help confirm your diagnosis. They will also help determine what treatment will be most effective for you.

Since invasive ductal carcinoma often spreads, your doctor should recommend additional tests to look for cancer cells in other areas of your body. These tests may include:

  • CT scan
  • MRI
  • PET scan
  • Bone scan
  • Chest X-ray

Axillary lymph node sampling (surgery to check the lymph nodes in the armpits for cancer) is always performed in the presence of invasive ductal carcinoma.

Using the results from these tests, your doctor will be able to determine the stage of your breast cancer. The stage will help guide your treatment.

How is invasive ductal carcinoma treated?

Most women with invasive ductal carcinoma have surgery to remove the cancer. In seven out of 10 cases, breast-conserving lumpectomies -- instead of mastectomies -- are an effective treatment option. This will depend upon the size of your tumor and the extent of its spread throughout your breast and the surrounding lymph nodes.

In addition to surgery, most doctors will recommend treating invasive ductal carcinoma with chemotherapy, endocrine therapy, radiation therapy, or a combination of all of these treatments. Chemotherapy and endocrine therapy are systemic treatments, which targets cancer cells throughout your entire body. Radiation specifically focuses on the area around your breast cancer. The use of radiation will depend on the type of surgery you have (lumpectomy or mastectomy), the size of the tumor, and whether it has spread, and the presence and number of lymph nodes involved. 

WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by Arnold Wax, MD on June 26, 2012
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