What is Invasive Ductal Carcinoma?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 15 May 2019
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Invasive ductal carcinoma (IDC) is one of the most common types of breast cancer. Around eight in 10 women diagnosed with breast cancer have IDC, which may also be known as “infiltrating ductal carcinoma.” This type of cancer can be very aggressive, as it has poorly defined borders and it will happily travel through the lymphatic system to other areas of the body. For this reason, treatment for IDC tends to be rapid and as aggressive as possible, with the goal of stopping the cancer in its tracks.

This cancer develops when atypical cells start to grow in the milk ducts. Eventually, the cells push through the walls of the milk ducts and into the breast in general, creating a hard lump. Women usually notice the lump during a breast self exam or doctor's visit, and they may notice other physical changes in their breasts, such as inverted nipples, tenderness, or a change in shape. A closely related type of cancer, invasive lobular carcinoma, starts in the milk glands.


When a doctor identifies invasive ductal carcinoma, the recommendation is usually to remove the lump as soon as possible. If the cancer has not spread very far, it may be possible to perform a lumpectomy, in which the lump and surrounding tissue are excised from the breast and sent away for testing. In the case of large or multiple lumps, the doctor may recommend a mastectomy, in which the entire breast is removed. At the time of the surgery, the lymph nodes in the area will also be removed for testing to see if the cancer has spread.

After surgery for invasive ductal carcinoma, radiation is often recommended to kill any errant cancer cells left in the breast. If the lymph nodes test positive for cancer, the doctor may also encourage the patient to consider chemotherapy treatments to prevent metastasis. The woman will undergo periodic testing during these treatments and in the months or years following to determine the status of the cancer.

Patients with invasive ductal carcinoma stand a chance of clearing the cancer, and they may go on to lead very healthy, active lives. Other patients are unable to get rid of the cancer, or they may experience remission, in which the cancer returns after it is assumed to be gone. The reasons why cancers behave in the ways that they do are not fully understood, although researchers are working hard to learn more about cancer and ways in which it can be addressed. Patients diagnosed with invasive ductal carcinoma should definitely consult multiple doctors to discuss treatment options and the prognosis.



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