Understanding Breast Cancer: Types, Stages, Impact and Treatment

Surprising fact about breast cancer — It is another name for nun’s disease. Why? Because a maximum number of nuns have it. Let’s break down this deadly disease.
breast cancer
Understanding Breast Cancer: Types, Stages, Impact and Treatment
Did you know there are 16 types and ten stages of breast cancer? Want to learn more about these? Read on.
In this article

The breast comprises connective tissue, fibrous tissue, lobes, lobules, milk ducts, an areola, and nipples; cancer forms when these cells multiply abnormally. Breast cancer can be of two forms — benign and malignant. Benign cancer is limited to the breast and does not alter in size. Malignant cancer is so powerful that it spreads to other parts of the body, like the brain, lungs, liver, and bones. 

It is only when a woman notices symptoms of breast cancer, like pain, discharge from nipples, pulling in of nipples, redness, swelling, or heaviness in one or both breasts, that breast cancer gets detected. Otherwise, it goes undetected for ages. This is why encouraging women to check themselves now and then is necessary. Even if a tiny swelling or lump lies somewhere in your breast, you can get it screened and treated

Breast cancer is not limited to women. It occurs in men, too. The symptoms are similar to those of women — lump in the breast, redness, nipple discharge, pain in nipples, and irritation of breast skin. 

Let’s learn more about this kind of cancer in depth. 

What is Breast Cancer?

Breast cancer develops when the breast cells grow out of control. It may or may not spread to other body parts. The breast cells divide and multiply to create a mass. This mass of tissue is called a tumor. It may begin to spread to other parts of the body. This condition is called metastasis. It may start in one breast and then affect the other or be present in both breasts. 

  • In situ: When the cancerous breast tissue does not spread to other body parts.
  • Invasive: When the cancerous breast tissue spreads to other body parts. 

The mode of spread to other body parts is through lymph nodes or blood vessels.

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Understanding Breast Cancer: Types, Stages, Impact and Treatment 6

Types of Breast Cancer

Most people do not know the types of breast cancer. There are 16 types of this cancer. 

Lobular carcinoma

Cancer of the glands in the breast that produce milk – lobules.

Ductal carcinoma

It is the cancer of the milk ducts carrying milk from lobules to nipples. The abnormal cells are in one milk duct. 

Inflammatory breast cancer

There is inflammation of the skin of the breast, such as erysipelas (large red patches). It is the most dangerous form of breast cancer. 

Paget’s disease of the breast

Breast cancer with the outward display of eczema on the skin due to changes in the nipples. Cancer is in the areola or the surrounding tissue of the nipples. It is a rare form of breast cancer. 

Invasive tubular breast carcinoma

It is an uncommon type of breast cancer found in women over 50. It involves a low rate of spread through lymph nodes. The prognosis is favorable for this carcinoma. 

Invasive lobular carcinoma

It is the second most common breast cancer. It starts in the lobules and then spreads to the nearby tissues. 

Lobular carcinoma in situ

This is not breast cancer, but being diagnosed with it means you are at a risk of developing it. It is a rare condition in which abnormal cells grow in the milk glands or lobules of the breast. 

Phyllodes tumor

This rare tumor forms in the epithelial cells (connective tissue). It is a benign tumor. Only some tumors are malignant. It occurs in females.

Male breast cancer

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Understanding Breast Cancer: Types, Stages, Impact and Treatment 7

One out of 100 breast cancers in the United States are found in men. Most breast cancers in men occur between the ages of 60 and 70. Possible risk factors include breast cancer in female relatives, consuming estrogen, liver cirrhosis, gynecomastia (enlarged breasts in males due to drug or hormonal treatment), mumps, inflammation of the testes, and obesity. 

Medullary carcinoma

It accounts for 5% of all breast cancers and has a favorable prognosis. The mean age of women affected by this carcinoma is 45. The size of the tumor is bigger than other tumors. 


It is a rare type of breast cancer that accounts for 0.2% of all breast cancers. It develops quickly. It has a potent capability to spread to the surrounding tissues. 

Triple-negative breast cancer

It is a kind of breast cancer with zero receptors for estrogen, progesterone, and human epidermal growth factor. For this type, doctors have fewer treatment options. 

Metastatic breast cancer

It is a Stage 4 breast cancer spreading to other parts of the body like bones, lungs, brain, and liver through lymph nodes. Depending on where it spreads, the symptoms vary. 

  • If it is the lungs, the symptom is shortness of breath. 
  • If it is the bones, then easy fractures happen. 
  • If it is the brain, then headaches and dizziness. 
  • And if it is the liver, then lack of appetite, weight loss, hiccups, and jaundice occur.

Mucinous breast neoplasm

It is a rare type of breast cancer found in older women. The likely causes include genetics and environmental factors. It accounts for 2% of all breast cancers. 

Metaplastic carcinoma

It is a rare type of breast cancer that accounts for less than 1% of all kinds. The tumor is aggressive and challenging for doctors to treat. 

Ductal carcinoma in situ

Stage 0 of breast cancer (precancerous stage). It does not produce any symptoms. Rarely a lump may be detected in screening mammography. 

Stages of Breast Cancer

There are a total of ten stages of breast cancer. In actuality, there are stages 1 to 4. However, the stages are further divided into sections depending on the condition of the tumor. Let’s learn about the various types and stages of breast cancer. 

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Understanding Breast Cancer: Types, Stages, Impact and Treatment 8

Stage zero (In situ cancer stage)

The disease is in the ducts of the breast and has not spread to surrounding areas. 

Stage I A

  1. The tumor is small and invasive (can spread to surrounding tissues).
  2. It has not yet spread to the lymph nodes.

Stage I B

  1. Cancer has spread to the lymph nodes. 
  2. The size is between 0.2 to 2 mm. 
  3. There is no evidence of a tumor in the breast. 
  4. If there is a tumor, then the size of it is less than 20 mm. 

Stage II A

  1. No evidence of a tumor, but the cancer has spread to 1 to 3 axillary lymph nodes.
  2. The tumor is smaller than 20 mm but has spread to 1 to 3 axillary lymph nodes.
  3. It is between 20 to 50 mm and has not spread to the axillary lymph nodes.

Stage II B

  1. The tumor is between 20 to 50 mm and has spread to 1 to 3 axillary lymph nodes.
  2. It is huger than 50 mm and has not spread to axillary lymph nodes.

Stage III A

  1. Tumor of any size has spread to 4 to 9 axillary nodes and internal mammary lymph nodes.
  2. It has not spread to other body parts.
  3. It is bigger than 50 mm and has spread to 1 to 3 axillary lymph nodes.

Stage III B (Inflammatory breast cancer)

  1. The tumor has reached the chest wall.
  2. It has caused swelling and ulceration of the breast.
  3. It may or may not have reached nine axillary lymph nodes, lymph nodes under the collarbone, and internal mammary lymph nodes.
  4. It has not yet spread to other body parts.

Stage III C

  1. It may have reached ten or more axillary lymph nodes, lymph nodes under the collarbone, and internal mammary lymph nodes
  2. It has not reached other body parts.

Stage IV (de novo Metastatic breast cancer)

  1. It has spread to other body parts like bones, chest wall, liver, lungs, brain, and distant lymph nodes.
  2. It can be of any size.
  3. It may have reached ten or more axillary lymph nodes, lymph nodes under the collarbone, and internal mammary lymph nodes
  4. About 6% of the cancers diagnosed first are in this stage.

Recurrent Stage

  1. Cancer that has come back after treatment of previous breast cancer
  2. It could be regional, local, or distant.
  3. The diagnostic tests get repeated.

How Breast Cancer Affects the Body?

While common breast cancer symptoms are widespread, it is essential to understand how it affects a person mentally and physically. 

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Understanding Breast Cancer: Types, Stages, Impact and Treatment 9

Mentally, breast cancer results in:

  • Loss of hope
  • Depression
  • Lack of motivation
  • Tearfulness
  • Emotional instability
  • Fearfulness
  • Body image issues
  • Shame
  • Feeling discouraged by a societal outlook towards the disease.

Physically, breast cancer results in:

  • Generalized weakness
  • Weight changes 
  • Loss of hair
  • Mood changes
  • Lymphoedema – swelling due to fluid in lymph nodes
  • Pain 
  • Loss of fertility
  • Lowered density of bones
  • Thinning of bones
  • Swelling and redness of breasts
  • Pain during intercourse
  • Lowered sexual libido
  • Menstrual changes

After cancer spreads to other body parts, it manifests as:

  • Headaches
  • Shortness of breath
  • Pain in the chest
  • Numbness
  • Pain 
  • Other specific organ-related complications  

Breast Cancer Diagnosis

Here are the ways of detecting breast cancer:

  • Mammogram: This constitutes an X-ray of the breast to check for lumps.
  • Breast ultrasound: To check for the areas inside the breast
  • Biopsy: A specialized needle is inserted into the breast tissue to view the cell multiplication.
  • MRI: A detailed imaging of the insides of the breast

Treatment Options for Breast Cancer

There are five kinds of treatment options for breast cancer. Depending upon your stage of breast cancer, your doctor may choose the appropriate option for you. 

  1. Surgery: Your doctor tries to eliminate the cancer in an operation theater.
  2. Hormonal therapy: Here, various medications block the cancer cells from accessing the hormones they need to grow. 
  3. Radiation therapy: High-energy rays like X-rays kill the cancer cells. 
  4. Chemotherapy: Different medications kill the cancer cells or shrink them. Drugs are administered orally or intravenously. 
  5. Biological therapy: In this therapy, the immune system is strengthened to fight the cancer cells. 

Living with Breast Cancer

Living with breast cancer can seem daunting. But here are some tips that can help you lead a smooth life:

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Understanding Breast Cancer: Types, Stages, Impact and Treatment 10

Find your tribe

Ask your doctor about patients with a similar experience. Then, get in touch with them. The more you communicate with people having breast cancer, the easier your life becomes in dealing with the disease.

Learn about your condition

Once you know about your cancer, accept it and try to program your mind to develop a healthy attitude towards it. Get professional help if you can.

Build a support system

Tell your family and friends about your condition. They will find ways to make your struggle easy and comforting. 


At every stage of breast cancer, try to remind yourself that it isn’t something that will end your life in a second. Willpower and mindset go a long way in fighting the battle against any deadly disease. Ask for personal or professional help and communicate your needs so people know how to help you.

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Arati Kulkarni

Arati Kulkarni

A freelance content writer by profession for the last seven years, Dr Arati Kulkarni Srivastava has an extensive medical and management background of 8 years. She enjoys writing on healthcare, mental health, and wellness.

This page is purely informational. Beem does not provide financial, legal or accounting advice. This article has been prepared for informational purposes only. It is not intended to provide financial, legal or accounting advice and should not be relied on for the same. Please consult your own financial, legal and accounting advisors before engaging in any transactions.

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