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Breast Cancer Screening (PDQ®): Screening - Health Professional Information [NCI] - Breast Cancer Diagnosis and Pathology


The natural history of DCIS is poorly understood because nearly all DCIS cases are treated. A single retrospective review of 11,760 breast biopsies performed between 1952 and 1968 identified 28 cases of DCIS,[7,8] which were detected by physical examination, biopsied without resection, and then followed for 30 years. Nine women developed invasive breast cancer and four women died of the disease. These findings are interesting but probably not relevant to women with screen-detected DCIS in an era of improved cancer care.

Development of breast cancer after treatment of DCIS depends on the characteristics of the lesion but also on the delivered treatment. One large randomized trial found that 13.4% of women treated by lumpectomy alone developed ipsilateral invasive breast cancer within 90 months, compared with 3.9% of those treated by lumpectomy and radiation.[9] The best evidence indicates that most DCIS lesions will not evolve to invasive cancer and that those that do can still usually be managed successfully, even after that transition. Thus, the detection and treatment of nonpalpable DCIS often represents overdiagnosis and overtreatment.

Among women diagnosed with (and treated for) DCIS between 1984 and 1989, only 1.9% died of breast cancer within 10 years,[10] which was a lower mortality rate than for the age-matched population at large. This favorable outcome may reflect the benign nature of the condition, the benefits of treatment, or the volunteer effect (women undergoing breast cancer screening are generally healthier than those who do not).

Attempts to define low-risk DCIS cases that can be managed with less therapies are important. One such effort analyzed a series of 706 DCIS patients who were monitored to develop the University of Southern California/Van Nuys Prognostic Scoring Index, which defines the risk of recurrent DCIS and invasive cancer among women with DCIS based on age, margin width, tumor size, and grade.[11] The low-risk group, comprising a third of the cases, experienced only 1% DCIS recurrences and no invasive cancers, independent of the use of postoperative radiation therapy. The moderate- and high-risk groups had higher recurrence rates, and they benefited from postlumpectomy radiation. Overall, only approximately 1% died of breast cancer. In a separate study, adjuvant tamoxifen therapy was shown to reduce the incidence of invasive breast cancer.[12]


  1. Barton MB, Elmore JG, Fletcher SW: Breast symptoms among women enrolled in a health maintenance organization: frequency, evaluation, and outcome. Ann Intern Med 130 (8): 651-7, 1999.
  2. White RR, Halperin TJ, Olson JA Jr, et al.: Impact of core-needle breast biopsy on the surgical management of mammographic abnormalities. Ann Surg 233 (6): 769-77, 2001.
  3. Allegra CJ, Aberle DR, Ganschow P, et al.: National Institutes of Health State-of-the-Science Conference statement: Diagnosis and Management of Ductal Carcinoma In Situ September 22-24, 2009. J Natl Cancer Inst 102 (3): 161-9, 2010.
  4. American Cancer Society.: Cancer Facts and Figures 2013. Atlanta, Ga: American Cancer Society, 2013. Available online. Last accessed September 5, 2013.
  5. Virnig BA, Tuttle TM, Shamliyan T, et al.: Ductal carcinoma in situ of the breast: a systematic review of incidence, treatment, and outcomes. J Natl Cancer Inst 102 (3): 170-8, 2010.
  6. Miller AB, To T, Baines CJ, et al.: Canadian National Breast Screening Study-2: 13-year results of a randomized trial in women aged 50-59 years. J Natl Cancer Inst 92 (18): 1490-9, 2000.
  7. Page DL, Dupont WD, Rogers LW, et al.: Intraductal carcinoma of the breast: follow-up after biopsy only. Cancer 49 (4): 751-8, 1982.
  8. Page DL, Dupont WD, Rogers LW, et al.: Continued local recurrence of carcinoma 15-25 years after a diagnosis of low grade ductal carcinoma in situ of the breast treated only by biopsy. Cancer 76 (7): 1197-200, 1995.
  9. Fisher B, Dignam J, Wolmark N, et al.: Lumpectomy and radiation therapy for the treatment of intraductal breast cancer: findings from National Surgical Adjuvant Breast and Bowel Project B-17. J Clin Oncol 16 (2): 441-52, 1998.
  10. Ernster VL, Barclay J, Kerlikowske K, et al.: Mortality among women with ductal carcinoma in situ of the breast in the population-based surveillance, epidemiology and end results program. Arch Intern Med 160 (7): 953-8, 2000.
  11. Silverstein MJ: The University of Southern California/Van Nuys prognostic index for ductal carcinoma in situ of the breast. Am J Surg 186 (4): 337-43, 2003.
  12. Fisher B, Dignam J, Wolmark N, et al.: Tamoxifen in treatment of intraductal breast cancer: National Surgical Adjuvant Breast and Bowel Project B-24 randomised controlled trial. Lancet 353 (9169): 1993-2000, 1999.

This information is produced and provided by the National Cancer Institute (NCI). The information in this topic may have changed since it was written. For the most current information, contact the National Cancer Institute via the Internet web site at http:// cancer .gov or call 1-800-4-CANCER.

WebMD Public Information from the National Cancer Institute

Last Updated: September 04, 2014
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
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