Breast cancer glossary & terms

There’s a whole new language you will learn once diagnosed with breast cancer. We have listed links to some excellent glossaries and descriptions, but before you get started, we have provided some basic terms for you to get you on your way.





Ductal Carcinoma In Situ is the earliest form of ductal breast cancer. Cells have been identified within the milk ducts as cancerous, but have yet to leave those contained areas. These patients have an excellent prognosis and multiple treatment options based upon their personal needs and doctor’s suggestions: lumpectomy and radiation, mastectomy and reconstruction, and/or hormone therapies are common.




Invasive Ductal Carcinoma, also known as infiltrating ductal carcinoma, is the most common form of breast cancer. This cancer starts as cells in the milk ducts and spreads to the other breast tissues. Over time, it can also spread beyond the breast.




Lobular Carcinoma In Situ is the earliest form of lobular breast cancer. LCIS is a condition where abnormal cells are found in the lobules of the breast. The atypical cells have not spread outside of the lobules into the surrounding breast tissue. LCIS is highly treatable and seldom becomes invasive cancer. However, having LCIS in one breast increases the risk of developing breast cancer in either breast.




Invasive Lobular Carcinoma is the second most common type of breast cancer. This cancer starts in the milk-making lobules which empty out into the ducts that carry milk to the nipple.  ILC is more common in older women, but not exclusively! It may also be more difficult to see under routine imaging. Left untreated, this cancer can spread outside the breast.




Inflammatory Breast Cancer, is a rare and aggressive form of breast cancer. According to the American Cancer Society, about 1% of all breast cancer cases in the United States are inflammatory breast cancers. Inflammatory breast cancer usually starts with the reddening and swelling of the breast instead of a distinct lump. IBC tends to grow and spread quickly, with symptoms worsening within days or even hours. It’s important to recognize symptoms and seek prompt treatment.  Although inflammatory breast cancer is a serious diagnosis, keep in mind that treatments today are better at controlling the disease than they used to be.


To learn more about the types of breast cancer, visit



Breast cancer in men is rare. Less than 1% of all breast cancers occur in men. In 2021, about 2,650 men are expected to be diagnosed with the disease, and an estimated 530 men are expected to die from breast cancer. Men, just like women, are born with breast tissue and can develop breast cancer.


If you or your loved one is a man and diagnosed with breast cancer, please find The Male Breast Cancer Coalition or their Facebook page.



Your pathology report will include the results of a hormone receptor assay, a test that tells you whether or not the breast cancer cells have receptors for the hormones estrogen and progesterone. Hormone receptors are proteins — found in and on breast cells — that pick up hormone signals telling the cells to grow.


ER-/+ or PR-/+

You may hear the term Estrogen Receptor Negative/Positive or Progesterone Receptor Negative/Positive. During your diagnosis, you may have a test called an IHC (ImmunoHistoChemistry).  Most breast cancers are ER+ and PR+.  That means that the cancer cells have receptors that “like” estrogen and progesterone. You will probably need some kind of hormone therapy that blocks your body’s hormones and therefore lowers your risk for cancer recurrence. If your tests come back with a negative, hormone therapy is probably not recommended, but other types of treatment may be suggested.



The HER2 gene makes HER2 proteins. HER2 proteins are receptors on breast cells. Normally, HER2 receptors help control how a healthy breast cell grows, divides, and repairs itself, but in about 25% of breast cancers, the HER2 gene doesn’t work correctly and makes too many copies of itself (known as HER2 gene amplification). All these extra HER2 genes tell breast cells to make too many HER2 receptors (HER2 protein overexpression). This makes breast cells grow and divide in an uncontrolled way.  HER2 positive breast cancers tend to grow faster and are more likely to spread and come back compared to HER2 negative breast cancers. But there are medicines specifically for HER2 positive breast cancers that are showing very positive results.


Here are some additional resources with more information on symptoms and definitions:

For a comprehensive breast cancer glossary, click here to visit



Most cancers are described by stages, and in breast cancer those stages are numbered 0 to 4. The higher the number, the more advanced the disease. While all forms of breast cancer should be taken very seriously, the earlier the diagnosed stage, the better the prognosis and the more choices a patient will have for treatments. The following is a very simple and brief synopsis of each stage (please note that there is far more complexity to cancer stages than what is written here):


Stage 0 

Commonly referred to as DCIS (Ductal Carcinoma In Situ), the cancer cells are still within the milk ducts and have likely not traveled to the surrounding tissue in the breast. It is also called noninvasive cancer.


Stage 1-3: Please see for complete detail of these stages. 


Stage 4

Often referred to as “metastatic cancer”, cancer cells from the breast have set up shop in other parts of the body. The most common places include the lungs, liver, brain, and bones. Cancer can also be defined as stage 4 when it travels to distant lymph nodes or is fixed to the chest wall.


To learn more about breast cancer stages, visit


Even if you do not have metastatic breast cancer, check out the comprehensive Insider’s Guide to Metastatic Breast Cancer by Anne Loeser, an MBC patient.  The booklet contains up-to-date information about the disease, standard and investigational treatments, coping with symptoms and side effects, and more.  As one reader stated, “It should be given to every woman immediately upon receiving a diagnosis of MBC.”



Here are some additional resources with more information on symptoms and definitions:


BC: Breast Cancer

BX: Biopsy

SNB: Sentinel Node Biopsy

DX: Diagnosis

IBC: Inflamatory Breast Cancer

IDC: Invasive Ductal Carcinoma

ILC: Invasive Lobular Carcinoma

DCIS: Ductal Carcinoma In Situ

LCIS: Lobular Carcinoma In Situ

ANC: Ancillary Node Clearance

ALND: Axillary Lymph Node Dissection

LN: Lymph Node

LX: Lumpectomy

MX: Mastectomy

UMX : Unilateral Mastectomy

BMX: Bilateral Mastectomy

DMX: Double Mastectomy

DIEP: Deep Inferior Epigastric Perforator

MPBC: Metaplastic Breast Cancer (not to be confused with metastatic breast cancer) – an aggressive rare form of breast cancer.

IMBC: Invasive Micropapillary Breast Carcinoma

METS: Metastatic

MBC: Metastatic Breast Cancer

SE: Side Effect

ANC: Absolute Neutrophil Count

WBC: White Blood Count

RBC: Red Blood Count

LE: Lymphedema

PICC Line: Peripherally Inserted Central Line

PORT: Port-a-cath

Mammo: Mammogram

U/S: Ultrasound

ECHO: Echocardiogram

RADS: Radiation/Radiotherapy

PCR: Pathological Complete Response

NED: No Evidence of Disease

NEAD: No Evidence of Active Disease. Used for stage 4.

Onc: Oncologist

PS: Plastic Surgeon

BS: Breast Surgeon

NP: Nurse Practioner

GP: General Practioner

PCP: Primary Care Physician

GS: General Surgeon

BRCA: BRCA1 and BRCA2 (Breast Cancer genes 1 and 2)

BARD1: Another BC Gene

HS: HistoryS/P: Status Post

SX: SurgeryPO:

Post Op

ER-: Receptor Status Estrogen Negative

PR-: Receptor Status Progesterone Negative

TNBC: Receptor Status Triple Negative

TPBC: Receptor Status – Triple Positive

ER+: Receptor Status – ER positive PR negative, Her2 negative

HR+: Receptor Status – ER and PR Positive, Her2 negative

HER2+: Receptor Status HR-, HER2 positive

PR+: Receptor Status ER negative, PR positive HER2 negative

ER/HER2+: Receptor Status PR negative, ER positive, HER2 positive

PR/HER2+: Receptor Status ER negative, PR positie, HER2 positive

TAC: Chemo Drug Taxotere/Adriamycin/Cytoxin

P: Chemo Drug Perjeta

CT: Chemo Drug Cytoxan, Taxotere

C: Chemo Drug Carboplatin

Tax: Chemo Drug TaxotereA: Chemo Drug Adriamycin

Cy: Chemo Drug Cytoxan

PTC: Chemo Drug Perjeta/Taxotere/Carboplatin

AC: Chemo Drug: Doxorubicin (Adriamycin) aka Red Devil, and Cyclophosphamide (Cytoxan).

CMF: Chemo Drug Cyclophosphamide/Methotrexate/Flourouracil

FEC: Chemo Drug Flourouracil/Epirubicin/Cyclophosphamide (chemo cocktail)

TC: Taxotere/Cyclophosphamide

TCHP: Chemo drugs Taxotere, Carboplatin, Herceptin, Perjeta

Tram: Tram Flap

Lat: Latissimus Flap

NEO: Neo-adjuvant

ADJ: Adjuvant