Ductal Carcinoma In Situ (DCIS) of the Breast

John Han-Chih Chang, MD and Kenneth Blank, MD
Last Modified: November 1, 2001

I have just been diagnosed with breast cancer - labeled DCIS (Ductal Carcinoma In Situ). I understand this means that the cancer is still in the milk ducts and hasn't spread to other parts of my body. I have no family history of breast cancer, but now I am anxious that I am more likely to develop cancer in other parts of my body especially in the other breast. How worried should I be? Does this mean my chances of, say, ovarian or cervical cancers go up?

Kenneth Blank, MD and John Han-Chih Chang, MD, Editorial Assistants for Oncolink, respond:

Dear OncoLink Reader:  
Thank you for your question.

Ductal carcinoma in situ of the breast (DCIS) means that the cancer has not spread through the epithelium of the milk ducts. Let us explain: The milk ducts of the breast are covered by a lining called the epithelium. The epithelium is a very thin layer of tissue in which most breast cancers arise. When the cancer has spread through the epithelium into the surrounding breast tissue it is called invasive breast cancer. If the cancer remains confined within the epithelium it is termed DCIS.

The chance of having cancer return in other parts of your body is extremely small. Because, by definition, DCIS has not spread through the epithelium, the cancer cells cannot gain access to the lymph nodes or blood system, which could potentially carry them to other parts of the body. The risk of developing a breast cancer on the other side is also low, but having had a cancer in one breast does slightly increase the chance of having a second cancer arise in the other breast. For this reason, it remains critical for you to have yearly mammograms and physical examinations as well as perform a self-examination monthly.

Finally, the fact that you had DCIS does not increase your risk of getting ovarian or cervical cancers. There exist familial cancer syndromes in which affected women are prone to get breast and ovarian cancers, but your negative family history precludes this possibility.


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