Though every woman with breast cancer has a unique experience, researchers have identified major types of breast cancer to help us better understand the disease. Your doctor will find out what type of breast cancer you have in order to plan the best treatment for you.
Doctors classify breast cancer primarily according to:
You may also hear the term recurrent breast cancer, which means cancer that reappears after breast cancer treatment.
Breast cancer sometimes returns after treatment, even when it seemed to have disappeared. Doctors call this recurrent breast cancer. Recurrent breast cancer can remain in situ, or it can spread.
Some other types of breast cancer you may hear about include:
Your pathology report and your healthcare providers may describe your breast cancer as estrogen receptor (ER), progesterone receptor (PR) or human epidermal growth factor receptor-2 (HER2) positive or negative. Or, they may say that your breast cancer is triple negative or triple positive.
Estrogen and progesterone receptors (also called hormone receptors) are proteins found in some cancer cells that allow a hormone (estrogen, progesterone or both) to attach and “feed” the cancer cells. Hormone receptor status is reported as positive or negative and sometimes a percent is also provided. For example, 90% estrogen receptor positive. ER/PR+ breast cancers will, at a minimum, receive some form of hormone therapy such as Tamoxifen.
HER2 is a protein involved in normal cell growth, which may also be present on breast cancer cells. If too much of the HER2 protein is produced, the tumor is considered HER2+ (also called ERBB2). Breast cancers that are HER2+ will receive HER2 directed therapy such as Herceptin.
Triple positive breast cancer is positive for HER2, ER and PR. You will receive HER2 directed therapies as well as hormone therapy.
Triple negative breast cancer is negative for HER2, ER and PR. Therefore, HER2 directed therapy and hormone therapy are not utilized. Typical treatment is chemotherapy.
Preliminary information about your cancer’s type will come from a biopsy and imaging tests such as ultrasounds, mammograms and MRIs. More specific answers can come from your pathology report. Your doctor will also describe your cancer in more detail when you discuss breast cancer stages.