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  • Cancer Imaging & Intervention

    The Cancer Imaging & Intervention Program at Massachusetts General Hospital Imaging combines leading-edge technology and the expertise of specialty-trained radiologists to provide comprehensive cancer detection and monitoring, plus image-guided treatments for specific types of cancer.

    Request an Appointment

    Call to request an appointment 617-724-9729

  • Breast Imaging

    The Breast Imaging Program provides state-of-the-art exams including breast tomosynthesis, the expertise of specialized breast radiologists, and a network of convenient metro Boston locations.

    Request an Appointment Request a mammogram

    Call to schedule an appointment 617-724-9729

Currently Browsing:Obstetrics & Gynecology

  • Midlife Women's Health Center

    The Massachusetts General Hospital Midlife Women’s Health Center brings together experts from more than 15 specialties to improve, promote and advance health care for women at menopause and beyond through research, collaboration and education.

    Contact us: 617-726-6776

    Watch our 2015 community conference

Currently Browsing:Surgical Oncology

About This Condition

Breast Cancer Overview

The body is made up of various kinds of cells, which normally divide in an orderly way to produce more cells only when they are needed. Cancer is a group of diseases more than 100 types that occur when cells become abnormal and divide without control or order.

What is a tumor?

When cells divide when new cells are not needed, too much tissue is formed. This mass of extra tissue, called a tumor, can be benign or malignant.

  • Benign tumors:

    • Are not cancer

    • Can usually be removed

    • Are rarely a threat to life

    • Do not come back in most cases

    • Do not spread to other parts of the body and the cells do not invade other tissues

  • Malignant tumors:

    • Are cancer

    • May be a threat to life

    • Often can be removed, but sometimes grow back

    • Can invade and damage nearby tissues and organs

    • Metastasize. Cancer cells can break away from a malignant tumor and enter the bloodstream or lymphatic system to form tumors in other parts of the body.

What are the different types of breast cancer?

There are several types of breast cancer, including:

  • Ductal carcinoma. This is the most common type and it begins in the lining of the ducts.

  • Lobular carcinoma. This is another common type and it occurs in the lobules (milk-producing glands).

  • Paget disease. This is a rare form of breast cancer that begins in the glands in or under the skin. It is often characterized by inflamed, red patches on the skin. Because Paget disease often originates from breast duct cancer, the eczema-like cancer usually appears around the nipple.

  • Inflammatory breast cancer. This is a rare form of invasive breast cancer. Usually there is no lump or tumor; rather this cancer makes the skin of the breast look red and feel warm. The breast skin also looks thick and pitted, much like an orange peel.

  • Triple negative breast cancers. These are breast cancers (most often invasive ductal carcinomas) that do not have estrogen receptors and progesterone receptors, and do not have an excess of the HER2 protein on the cancer cell surfaces. These breast cancers tend to occur more often in younger women and in African-American women. They tend to grow and spread faster than most other types of breast cancer.

When breast cancer metastasizes, or spreads outside the breast, cancer cells are often found in the lymph nodes under the arm. If the cancer has reached these nodes, it may mean that cancer cells have spread to other parts of the body.

Cancer that spreads is the same disease and has the same name as the original, or primary cancer. When breast cancer spreads, it is called metastatic breast cancer, even though the secondary tumor is in another organ. This may also be called distant disease.

Types of breast cancer, in alphabetical order, are:

Adenocarcinoma (adenocystic carcinoma)



Ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS)

Infiltrating (or invasive) ductal carcinoma (IDC)

Infiltrating (or invasive) lobular carcinoma (ILC)

Inflammatory breast cancer

Lobular carcinoma in situ (LCIS) (also called lobular neoplasia)

Medullary carcinoma

Metaplastic carcinoma

Mixed tumors

Mucinous carcinoma

Paget disease of the nipple

Papillary carcinoma

Phyllodes tumor (also spelled phylloides)

Triple-negative breast cancer

Tubular carcinoma




  • Lehman welcomed as new chief of Breast Imaging - 10/23/2015, Mass General

    The Department of Radiology has announced the appointment of Constance Lehman, MD, PhD, as the new chief of the Breast Imaging Division, effective Sept. 1.

  • Breast Cancer Awareness 2015: Mass General Events - 10/1/2015, Mass General

    In honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month in October, Mass General Imaging is hosting educational events to support women’s breast health. Learn more about this year's events in at Mass General locations in Boston, Waltham, Danvers and Revere.

  • Exercise breast cancer prevention - 10/10/2014, Mass General

    October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and reminders are everywhere for women to remain vigilant about screening and maintaining a healthy lifestyle – including daily exercise. Lidia Schapira, MD, medical oncologist with the MGH Center for Breast Cancer, shares her insights on the benefits of staying fit.

  • Breast Cancer Awareness Month 2014 at Mass General - 10/1/2014, Mass General

    In honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month in October, Mass General Imaging is hosting educational events to support women's breast health. Learn more about this year's events in Boston, Waltham, Danvers, Revere and Chelsea.

  • A new kind of mammogram comes to Revere - 3/14/2014, Mass General

    The latest breakthrough in mammography, breast tomosynthesis (3D mammography) is now available at the MGH Revere HealthCare Center.

  • Digital 3-D mammograms show promise - 12/3/2012, Mass General

    Device companies race to improve breast cancer screening, but the effectiveness of new methods is still being studied.

  • Innovations in Breast Cancer Treatment - 7/16/2012, Mass General

    As part of the multidisciplinary approach to breast cancer treatment, Mass General Cancer Center patients receive care from an integrated team of pathologists, radiologists, and medical, surgical, and radiation oncologists.

  • New Frontier in Breast Cancer Recovery - 7/16/2012, Mass General

    William Gerald Austen Jr., MD, chief, Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery, is using liposuction techniques to advance less complicated breast reconstruction, with more natural outcomes.

  • Mass General researcher gets grant to study optical breast imaging - 5/3/2011, Clinical

    Massachusetts Life Sciences Center has awarded Qianqian Fang, PhD, and Philips Healthcare a $500,000 grant aimed at equipping traditional mammography systems with a low-cost optical imaging system with the potential to dramatically improve breast cancer detection.

  • Experts question motives of mammogram guidelines - 11/16/2009, Clinical

    Critics of the guidelines, issued on Monday by the US Services Task Force, an independent panel sponsored by the US Agency for Healthcare Quality, say the new guidelines are a step backward and will lead to more cancer deaths.

Test & Procedures

  • Mammography

    At Massachusetts General Hospital, every mammogram is read by a radiologist who specializes in breast imaging. We use the latest imaging technology including breast tomosynthesis as our standard of care for all screening mammograms.

    Request a Mammogram

    Call to request a mammogram 617-724-9729

    What is breast tomosynthesis?


  • 3D mammography: breast tomosynthesis

    Breast Tomosynthesis

    Pioneered at Mass General Imaging, breast tomosynthesis provides a clear view through overlapping layers of breast tissue in order to improve breast-cancer detection while reducing callbacks.

  • Breast tomosyntehsis

    Breast tomosynthesis gains momentum

    Learn more about breast tomosynthesis in this podcast featuring Mass General staff radiologist and Harvard Medical School instructor Phoebe Freer, MD. Courtesy of Harvard Medical Labcast, March 2012, Harvard Medical School Office of Communications and External Relations