Breast cancer isn’t a single disease. Many subtypes of breast cancer exist, and cancerous tumors can be made up of more than one type of cancer. In about 5 to 6 percent of invasive breast cancers, at least some part of the tumor is cribriform.

While other tumor cells have distinctive holes that give a Swiss cheese appearance, cribriform carcinoma cells resemble normal cells.

Invasive cribriform breast cancer generally isn’t an aggressive type.

Once your doctor has confirmed breast cancer from your biopsy results, they’ll recommend a treatment plan. Breast cancer treatment varies according to the cancer’s type, stage, and grade. For people who have small tumors and early stage breast cancer, surgery is often the first step of treatment.

Your surgeon can remove the cancerous tumor using a breast-conserving surgery called a lumpectomy. During this procedure, only the tumor and the surrounding tissues are removed. They can also perform a mastectomy, in which the doctor fully removes your breast.

During surgery, your doctor may also remove nearby lymph nodes to see if the cancer has spread beyond your breast.

Once surgically removed, the tumor, surrounding tissue, and lymph nodes are sent to a pathology lab for more analysis. Tumors can be made up of several types of cancer cells, and these cells may not have been apparent from a needle biopsy, in which only part of the tumor was examined.

The pathology report will indicate if the cancer has spread to the lymph nodes. This information plus the size of the tumor help your doctor determine the stage of the cancer. Breast cancer is staged from 1 to 4. The higher the stage, the more advanced it is and the further it’s spread from the original site.

The pathology report will also give you information about the tumor’s grade. Breast cancer tumors are graded from 1 to 3. The grade tells you how aggressive the cancer is. The higher the grade, the less the cancer cells resemble normal, healthy cells. Higher grades tend to spread faster. Cribriform breast cancer cells tend to be low-grade.

Once your oncologist determines the type of cancer, stage, and grade, they can make recommendations for the rest of your treatment plan.

Learn more: Breast cancer treatment options by stage »

Treatment for cribriform carcinomas typically involves the surgical removal of the tumor.

If your cancer also tests positive for estrogen receptors, progesterone receptors, or proteins called HER2/neu receptors, your treatment will likely include hormone-blocking drugs or HER2-targeted drugs. These treatments are usually given in addition to or in combination with surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation.

Learn more: HER2-positive vs. HER2-negative breast cancer »

Breast cancer that tests negative for these receptors is called triple-negative breast cancer. While no targeted treatments for this type are available, chemotherapy is effective, especially in the early stages. Your doctor may recommend chemotherapy in addition to surgery.

Cribriform carcinomas are usually well-differentiated, meaning that they still resemble normal cells. Cribriform breast cancer usually grows slowly and spreads more slowly than some other types of ductal carcinoma. Treatment typically involves completely removing the tumor through surgery.

Cribriform carcinomas are almost always estrogen receptor-positive, so your treatment will likely include hormonal blocking agents like an aromatase inhibitor. Because cribriform breast cancers are so low-grade and slow growing, chemotherapy and radiation are often not necessary in the early stages.

With treatment, the outlook is usually very good.

Breast cancer is cancer that starts in the breast. It’s easier to treat in the early stages while it’s still confined to the breast. To identify breast cancer early, follow these tips.

Recognize the signs and symptoms of breast cancer

When you think about breast cancer, you probably think about a lump in the breast. It’s one of the more visible signs that something is wrong. Most breast lumps turn out to be noncancerous, but you should still see your doctor if you notice a lump.

You can also have breast cancer even though there are no noticeable lumps. Some of the signs and symptoms of breast cancer are:

  • bumps and lumps, particularly if they’re hard and irregularly shaped
  • swelling or dimpling of the skin, like an orange peel, or other skin irritation
  • a sudden increase in breast size
  • nipple retraction, thickening, or redness
  • unusual nipple discharge
  • a scaly appearance to the nipple
  • pain of the breast or nipple
  • swelling or lumps in the lymph nodes around the collarbone or under the arm

None of these symptoms necessarily mean you have breast cancer.

No one is more familiar with how your breasts normally look and feel than you. If you notice lumps or other symptoms, consult with your doctor. If you do have breast cancer, early treatment can help stop it from spreading and improve your outlook.

Learn more: What does a breast cancer lump feel like? »

Get screened

Today’s screening techniques can sometimes help doctors identify breast cancer before any symptoms appear. The American Cancer Society provides the following guidelines for women at average risk:

  • If you’re 40 to 44 years old, discuss potential benefits and risks of screening with your doctor.
  • If you’re 45 to 54 years old, get a mammogram every year.
  • If you’re 55 or older, get a mammogram every two years or choose to get one every year.

If you have certain risk factors, such as family or personal history of breast cancer, you may need earlier or more frequent screening. Talk to your doctor about which screening tests you should get and how often you should get them.