Invasive Ductal Carcinoma

What Is Invasive Ductal Carcinoma?

Invasive ductal carcinoma is the most common form of breast cancer, identified in four out of five diagnoses. It goes under several names, including infiltrating ductal carcinoma and invasive carcinoma of no special type. It originates in the cells that form the lining of the milk ducts and spreads from there to the surrounding tissues. The cancerous mass it produces can be relatively symptom-free and often requires self-examination, a mammogram, or other forms of medical imaging for detection. Given early discovery and effective treatment, the outlook for patients with invasive ductal carcinomas is increasingly positive.

If you suspect you have symptoms of invasive ductal carcinoma, arrange to see your Baptist Health family physician or oncologist.

What Are the Symptoms of Invasive Ductal Carcinoma?

Invasive ductal carcinoma isn’t without indicators. There are several possible signs that a breast cancer is developing:

  • Lumps in the breast or underarm
  • A breast rash, redness, or swelling
  • Thickening breast skin
  • Breast pain or discomfort
  • Unusual changes in the appearance of the nipple or breast
  • Nipple discharge or inversion
  • Dimpling skin around the nipple or elsewhere on the breast

If you experience any of these symptoms, or discover a lump during self-examination, schedule a mammogram appointment immediately.

What Causes Invasive Ductal Carcinoma?

Like other cancers, invasive ductal carcinoma results from DNA mutations that drive changes in cell behavior. Cancer cells live longer and reproduce more rapidly than healthy cells, leading to the buildup of cancerous masses or tumors that interrupt normal bodily functions. Cancer cells also metastasize or spread, extending the range and degree of disease. Medical researchers have yet to determine the exact cause or causes of the mutations. There are a number of possible contributing factors:

  • Smoking and tobacco use
  • Poor nutrition
  • Radiation therapy from a previous illness
  • Family history of breast cancer
  • Other genetic factors.

These other factors may include the inheritance of certain types of genes. The mutated versions of the genes BRCA1, BRCA2, and ErbB2 can trigger cancerous behaviors in otherwise healthy cells.

How Is Invasive Ductal Carcinoma Diagnosed?

Your physician will likely take the following steps to diagnose invasive ductal carcinoma:

Physical Exam

Your doctor will examine you for evidence of breast cancer. He or she will document your symptoms and ask questions about your medical history and possible risk factors.

Medical Imaging

Medical imaging can be used to determine the location and extent of the disease. Your physician may utilize one or more of the following technologies to make a diagnosis:

  • X-ray or CT scan: An X-ray picture of the breast is called a mammogram. Mammograms can provide evidence of tumor formation even when other symptoms of cancer are absent or ambiguous. Invasive ductal carcinoma is, however, one of the more difficult forms of cancer to detect with X-ray technology.
  • Ultrasound: Ultrasound technology relies on sound waves to depict the interior of the breast. As with X-ray technology, invasive ductal carcinoma can be hard to discern in an ultrasound image.
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI): MRIs utilize magnetic fields to create an interior picture of the breast. It is often the most effective of the major medical-imaging technologies for detecting the presence of invasive ductal carcinoma.


To confirm the presence of cancer, your physician will collect tissue or fluid samples for analysis. These samples are called biopsies. The sample will be removed either by means of a needle or by surgical instruments.

How Is Invasive Ductal Carcinoma Treated?

Invasive ductal carcinoma typically receives one or more of the following treatments:

  • Surgery: Many patients opt to have their cancer surgically removed. Depending on the tumor’s extent, a surgeon will perform either a lumpectomy, or localized excision, or a mastectomy, the removal of a breast.
  • Radiation therapy: Radiation therapy utilizes high-energy X-rays or proton beams to destroy cancer cells. It is often used in conjunction with surgery and chemotherapy in the treatment of breast cancer.
  • Chemotherapy: Chemotherapy is the use of drugs to treat breast cancer. Anticancer medications are deployed before surgery to shrink a tumor and after surgery to kill any remaining cancer cells in the breast. Chemotherapy is also used to attack cancers that have moved into other areas of the body.
  • Hormone therapy: Some cancers feed on hormones, using them as a kind of fuel. Hormone therapies are designed to reduce or eliminate contact between the hormones and breast-cancer cells. They do this in one of two ways: by blocking cell receptors from attaching hormones or by decreasing, in postmenopausal women, the body’s hormone production.
  • Targeted therapy: Targeted-therapy drugs exploit specific mutations associated with some cancer cells to stop their growth, reproduction, and spread. In this way they operate differently than chemotherapy drugs, by bottling up cancer rather than simply destroying it. Targeted-therapy drugs are often utilized along with chemotherapy.

The combination and intensity of treatments depends, in part, on the stage of a cancer’s development.


The prognosis for invasive ductal carcinoma (IDC) depends on the stage of the tumor, response to treatments, and other individual markers and prognostic factors. Research continues to revolutionize and advance treatment options, and your healthcare team will work together to assess and determine your individualized treatment plan and prognosis. 


Invasive ductal carcinoma (IDC) is the most common form of breast cancer and is responsible for 80% of all breast cancer diagnoses. It is important to be proactive about your health, specifically if you are at a higher risk for developing breast cancer. If you believe yourself to be at a higher risk, it is important to discuss this with your primary care physician. Preventative medications, surgery, and increasing the frequency of cancer screenings may all help with prevention. Early detection is critical. More specific preventions for IDC include:

  • Talking with your doctor about both the risks and benefits of menopausal hormone treatments. Combination hormone treatments for managing symptoms of menopause may increase the risk of breast cancer. If symptoms of menopause feel greater than the risk of breast cancer, it is important to use the lowest dosage possible for the shortest amount of time.
  • Getting a mammogram. The American Cancer Society recommends getting a baseline mammogram at age 35, and a screening mammogram every year after age 40.
  • Examine your breasts. It is recommended to examine your breasts once a month starting at age 20.
  • Drink alcohol in moderation or abstain from drinking. For healthy adults, women of all ages and men over 65 can drink up to 1 drink a day, and men under 65 can drink up to 2 drinks a day.
  • Exercise regularly. Exercising at least 5 days a week for 30 minutes can help to reduce the risk of developing cancer.
  • Maintain a healthy weight. Maintaining a healthy weight has shown to reduce the risk of developing breast cancer. Talk with your doctor if you are seeking healthy and helpful weight loss or weight maintenance strategies. 


There are several potential complications that can result from invasive ductal cancer. The biggest complication from this cancer type is the ability for it to spread to other areas in the body. This is what makes early detection so critical. Other complications are typically a result of the treatments used and may include feeling nauseated, vomiting, fatigue, mouth sores, or hair loss. Additionally, most patients experience emotional distress upon receiving a cancer diagnoses and having to navigate treatment.

Next Steps with MyChart

Discover MyChart, a free patient portal that combines your Baptist Health medical records into one location. Schedule appointments, review lab results, financials, and more! If you have questions, give us a call.