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Invasive breast cancer

Invasive breast cancer (no special type) is the most common type of breast cancer. Find out about it and how it is treated.

What invasive breast cancer (NST) is

Invasive breast cancer means that the cancer cells have grown through the lining of the ducts into the surrounding breast tissue. NST stands for No Special Type. 

Special type means that when the doctor looks at the cancer cells under a microscope, the cells have particular features. Breast cancers that are classed as special type include lobular breast cancer and some rare types of breast cancer.

Most invasive breast cancers have no special features and so are classed as No Special Type. NST is also sometimes called NOS (not otherwise specified). It used to be called ductal carcinoma.

Diagram showing ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS)

Remember that if your doctor has told you that you have ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS), you don't have invasive breast cancer.

Symptoms of invasive breast cancer

Make an appointment to see your doctor if you notice anything different or unusual about the look and feel of your breasts.

The possible symptoms of breast cancer include:

  • a lump or thickening in an area of the breast
  • a change in the size, shape or feel of the breast
  • dimpling of the skin
  • a change in the shape of your nipple, particularly if it turns in, sinks into the breast, or has an irregular shape
  • a blood stained discharge from the nipple
  • a rash on a nipple or surrounding area
  • a swelling or lump in the armpit

Diagnosing invasive breast cancer

In many women the cancer is found during breast screening.

If you have symptoms and see your GP they refer you to a specialist breast clinic. At the breast clinic the doctor or specialist nurse takes your medical history and examines your breasts. They also feel for any swollen (enlarged) lymph nodes under your arms and at the base of your neck.

You have some of the following tests:

  • a mammogram (an x-ray of the breasts)
  • an ultrasound (if you are under 35 you are more likely to have an ultrasound scan instead of a mammogram)
  • a biopsy – a small sample of cells or tissue is taken from your breast and looked at under a microscope

If the mammogram or ultrasound shows changes that could be due to cancer, you might also have an ultrasound of the lymph nodes under your arm. If any lymph nodes look abnormal your doctor might take a biopsy.

Treatment

To decide on the most appropriate treatment, doctors generally take into account: 

  • the type of breast cancer
  • the size of the cancer and whether it has spread (the stage)
  • how abnormal the cells look under the microscope (the grade)
  • whether the cancer cells have receptors for particular hormones
  • whether the cells have receptors for targeted cancer drug therapy

For invasive breast cancer you might have:

  • surgery
  • radiotherapy
  • chemotherapy
  • hormone therapy
  • a combination of these treatments

Follow up

After treatment you usually have regular check ups. At the check ups your doctor or a breast care nurse will examine you and ask about your general health. This is your chance to ask questions and to tell them if anything is worrying you.

How often you have check ups depends on your individual situation but they might go on for at least 5 years. This might include yearly mammograms. 

It’s important to remember that you can contact your doctor or nurse between appointments if you are worried about a symptom or have questions. You don't have to wait for your next appointment. You can also speak to your GP.

In some hospitals you don't have regular appointments after treatment. But if you have new symptoms or are worried about anything you can phone your doctor or breast care nurse or make an appointment to see them. 

UK guidelines say that everyone who has had treatment for early breast cancer should have a copy of a written care plan. The care plan has information about tests you will have, and signs and symptoms to look out for. It will also include contact details for specialist staff, such as your breast care nurse.

Trials and research

Invasive breast cancer is the most common type of breast cancer. So most breast cancer research is looking at this type.

Research includes:

  • the causes and prevention of breast cancer
  • screening and diagnosis
  • new treatments
  • ways to improve existing treatments
  • ways to cope with cancer and its treatment

Information and help

Dangoor sponsorship

About Cancer generously supported by Dangoor Education since 2010.