Invasive ductal carcinoma (IDC) is a type of breast cancer. It starts in the milk ducts and spreads to nearby tissue. It does not always cause symptoms, but symptoms that do occur can include pain, discharge, swelling, and more.

IDC is “invasive” as it quickly spreads into the surrounding tissue of the breast. It may also metastasize, or spread, to other areas of the body.

Tests such as a mammogram, ultrasound, and biopsy can help to diagnose the condition. Doctors may recommend numerous treatments, such as surgery, radiation therapy, and chemotherapy.

Read on to learn more about the symptoms and causes of IDC. This article also discusses how doctors diagnose the condition, treatment options, and more.

Two people are wearing underwear.Share on Pinterest
Eloisa Ramos/Stocksy

IDC may not cause any early signs or symptoms. A doctor may discover a mass during a mammogram.

As it develops, a person or doctor may notice a lump or mass when examining the breast.

Other signs and symptoms that can occur include:

  • pain in the nipple or breast
  • changes in the shape of the breast
  • nipple discharge
  • swelling of the affected breast
  • thickening nipple skin

Learn more about signs and symptoms of breast cancer.

IDC occurs when milk duct cells in the breast begin to grow and multiply out of control.

Doctors and researchers still do not fully understand what causes this to happen. However, they have identified certain factors that can increase a person’s risk of IDC.

Risk factors can be modifiable, such as lifestyle choices, or nonmodifiable, such as age or family history.

Some known nonmodifiable risk factors include:

  • sex, as it most commonly affects people assigned female at birth
  • age, as it most commonly affects people over the age of 55 years
  • family history of breast cancer
  • personal history of breast cancer or benign breast disease
  • having dense breast tissue
  • having previously received radiation therapy in the chest area
  • in rare cases, having certain gene mutations such as breast cancer 1 (BRCA1) or breast cancer 2 (BRCA2)

Modifiable or changeable risk factors for IDC include:

  • drinking alcohol
  • tobacco use
  • limited physical activity
  • obesity
  • long-term hormone replacement therapy (HRT)
  • exposure to diethylstilbestrol (DES), which is a synthetic form of estrogen

A person without any risk factors or limited risk factors can still develop breast cancer. Similarly, a person with multiple risk factors may never develop breast cancer.

Doctors can use several tests to diagnose and stage IDC. Some common tests they use if they suspect IDC include:

  • mammogram, which is an X-ray of the breasts
  • ultrasound scan, which uses soundwaves to create an image of the breast
  • core biopsy of the breast, which uses a hollow needle to remove a portion of the breast to examine in a lab
  • fine needle aspiration (FNA), which uses a smaller needle to collect a sample of the breast

After diagnosis, a doctor stages IDC on the basis of several factors, including:

  • the size of the tumor
  • whether it involves lymph nodes
  • whether and how far it has spread

A doctor may need to order additional tests to help stage the condition. They will be able to explain which tests they order and what the tests involve.

Learn more about breast cancer stages.

Treatment for IDC can vary according to a person’s overall health, age, and stage of their cancer. Treatment options may include:

A person’s doctor can advise on which treatments they recommend and answer any questions.

Learn about medications for treating breast cancer.

The outlook for IDC can vary between people on the basis of factors such as age, overall health, and stage of the cancer.

A person’s doctor may refer to a 5-year relative survival rate. According to the American Cancer Society, the 5-year relative survival rates for all types of breast cancer are:

  • 99% for localized cancer, which is cancer that has not spread outside of the breast or affected lymph nodes
  • 86% for regional cancer, which is cancer that has spread to nearby tissue or lymph nodes
  • 30% for distant cancer, which is cancer that has spread to other areas of the body, such as the bones

A relative survival rate helps give an idea of how long a person with a particular condition will live after receiving a diagnosis compared with those without the condition. For example, if the 5-year relative survival rate is 70%, it means that a person with the condition is 70% as likely to live for 5 years as someone without the condition.

It is important to remember that these figures are estimates. A person can consult a healthcare professional about how their condition is going to affect them.

Was this helpful?

Here are some frequently asked questions about invasive ductal carcinoma.

How serious is invasive ductal carcinoma?

IDC can be a serious condition. When caught early, the relative 5-year survival rate for localized breast cancer is 99%. However, the cancer can spread, affecting a person’s outlook or the efficacy of treatments. It is best to seek medical advice as soon as there are concerns about IDC.

Is invasive ductal carcinoma fast spreading?

Studies indicate that invasive breast cancers can grow and spread rapidly. In a 2016 review, researchers noted that delayed time between diagnosis and surgical treatment often resulted in poor outlook due to the rate of growth of breast cancer.

They also found that the subtype of the cancer can make a difference in how quickly the cancer grows.

Learn more about how quickly breast cancer can spread.

Should I have a mastectomy for invasive ductal carcinoma?

Surgery may be the first line of treatment for some people with IDC. Tumor size and location can affect whether a doctor recommends a breast-conserving procedure or a mastectomy. A person can discuss their options with a doctor to determine what options may be best for them.

Learn more about mastectomies.

Invasive ductal carcinoma (IDC) is a type of breast cancer. It starts in the milk ducts but spreads into the nearby breast tissue.

A person may not notice any symptoms at first. When symptoms do occur, they can cause nipple or breast pain, nipple discharge, changes in the shape of the breast, and more.

Treatment often involves surgery to remove the tumor, as well as additional therapies to help remove the cancerous cells.

It is best to contact a doctor as early as possible if there are concerns about IDC. They can order tests to help diagnose the condition and advise on suitable treatments.