How fast does breast cancer grow and spread? (2023)

You may have been diagnosed or have concernsbreast cancer. If so, you may be wondering how quickly it develops, grows and spreads.

Concern comes with questions such as when the cancer starts, how quickly it doubles, and how quickly it might spread to lymph nodes, bones, or other areas of the body. Answers will vary depending on your own genetic makeup, the type of cancer, and how far along it may have progressed.

This article looks at the factors that can affect the rate of growth of cancer and how long it takes for any of these tumors to develop. It also explains why the answers matter to people living with breast cancer today.

How fast does breast cancer grow and spread? (1)

People diagnosed with breast cancer often wonder how long it has been since the cancer first appeared. That's never an easy question to answer. Some experts suggest that many tumors are likely to start at least five years before they are discovered.

How fast breast cancer grows

One of the main reasons people ask how fast breast cancer grows or how long it takes is when they are considering how long they will have to wait before starting treatment. This growth rate is also important to understand if you have a nodule and have been advised to simply watch it over time.

In general, breast cancer growth can be highly variable, but several studies provide at least an estimate of what might happen.

Unless your doctor is very confident that a lump is benign, it should be evaluated immediately rather than waiting.

growth of breast cancer cells

Cancer begins when genetic changes called mutations occur in a normal breast cell. These changes take place in genes that control cell growth. These changes can occur over a long period of time, even decades, before a cancer cell forms.

These tumor cells multiply and divide exponentially, meaning one cell becomes two, two cells become four, and so on. Therefore, the larger a tumor grows, the faster it grows.

However, not all cells divide at the same time. Cancer growth can change at different stages as a tumor forms. Compared to many types of cancer, breast cancer has a "low growth rate." This means that the proportion of cancer cells that are in an active cell cycle is low.

Some tumors such asLymphomaand some leukemias, have much higher growth fractions. They can be active for a much shorter period of time before being discovered, even in children.

Cancer Cells: How They Start and Characteristics

(Video) How long does it take for breastcancer to spread?

Breast Cancer Doubling Time

An important way to think about how fast breast cancer grows is to look at what is known as the volume doubling time. Growth rate is part of tumor doubling time, and that's what it sounds like. It is the time it takes for a tumor to double in size.

It would be unethical to leave a cancer untreated to see how fast it grows, so researchers estimate the doubling time. However, looking at these models, it becomes clear that estimates of the doubling time vary from study to study.

A 2018 study estimated the doubling time by looking at serial ultrasounds in 265 people with invasive breast cancer to see if there were differences between breast cancer subtypes. These images were taken between diagnosis and surgery. The results suggest that growth varied significantly based on breast cancer subtype and the role of estrogen receptors in those subtypes.

During a mean interval of 57 days, 36% of the tumors did not change in size while 64% grew. For the tumors that increased in size, the mean increase in volume was 34.5%. tumors that weretriple negativehad greater volume gains and shorter doubling times than those who were estrogen receptor positive andHER2 negativeCancer.

A similar 2016 study looked at growth in 323 people based on ultrasound images taken over a 31-day period between diagnosis and surgery. On average, the tumors grew from 1.47 centimeters (cm) to 1.56 cm in diameter. The daily growth rate based on type was:

  • Increase of 1.003% per day in triple negative tumors
  • 0.859% increase per day in HER2 positive/estrogen receptor negative tumors
  • 0.208% daily increase in estrogen receptor positive tumors


How fast breast cancer grows is key information for those affected. It is based on how quickly genetic changes add up as a cancer cell divides and spreads. A common measure looks at how long it takes for a tumor to double in size due to this growth. This “doubling time” may depend on the breast cancer subtype. Studies suggest that triple-negative tumors have shorter doubling times than estrogen receptor-positive and HER2-negative tumors.

Factors affecting the growth rate

A number of studies have identified other factors that influence the rate of breast cancer growth. These include:

  • The type of cancer:Inflammatory Breast Cancertends to grow much faster than other types of breast cancer.
  • Age at diagnosis:Breast cancer in young women tends to grow faster than breast cancer in older women. They also have a higher tumor grade.
  • State of menopause:Breast tumors often grow faster in premenopausal women than in postmenopausal women. This is probably due to estrogen in the body.
  • Receptor Status:Triple-negative cancers generally grow faster than estrogen receptor-positive tumors.triple positiveTumors also grow faster.
  • Estrogen Treatment:Women who used hormone replacement therapy after menopause generally had a faster growth rate of breast tumors.
  • Ki-67-Index:This measures a specific tumor marker. A higher index means a faster doubling time.
  • Tumor grade:This describes what the cells look like. A higher tumor grade indicates a faster doubling time.

Hormone replacement therapy and risk of breast cancer

How fast breast cancer spreads

metastasis, the spread of breast cancer to other parts of the body, is responsible for the majority of breast cancer deaths. Therefore, it is important to know how quickly breast cancer spreads.

Breast cancer usually first spreads to the lymph nodes under the arm. This is calledLymph node-positive breast cancer. Breast cancer is considered an early stage and is potentially curable even if the lymph nodes are involved.

(Video) Microtentacles: How Breast Cancer Spreads

When a cancer spreads to regions such as the bones, brain, lungs, or liver, it is considered stage IV or metastatic breast cancer. That means it is no longer curable.

Most breast cancers have themspread potential.carcinoma in situor stage 0 breast cancer is considered non-invasive due to its limited spread. It is potentially 100% curable with surgery.

All other stages of breast cancer (Stage I through IV) are considered invasive and can spread. Spreading to the lymph nodes, even in the early stages, is very important as it indicates the potential for the cancer to spread beyond the breasts.

How breast cancer spreads and returns

Factors associated with faster spread

Some types of breast cancer and their subtypes spread earlier (and earlier) than other types. For example, ductal carcinoma is more likely to spread thanlobular carcinoma, among tumors that are the same size and stage.

Many breast cancers do not spread to the lymph nodes until the tumor is at least 2 cm to 3 cm in diameter. Some species can spread very early, even if a tumor is less than 1 cm.

Tumor size and spread to lymph nodes

In very small and very large breast tumors, there is little evidence of a relationship between tumor size and lymph node spread. For tumors in the clinically most common area, the size of the tumor correlates with the risk of lymph node involvement.


A number of factors, such as age or a history of hormone replacement therapy, can affect the growth rate of breast cancer cells. This is important when considering whether breast cancer has spread to the lymph nodes or other organs, or has not spread at all. The type of breast cancer also plays a role, as some can spread more quickly and this with relatively small tumors.

How long can you wait to start breast cancer treatment?

How fast breast cancer develops

The actual time it takes breast cancer to grow from a single cancer cell to a malignant tumor is unknown. One reason is that estimates based on the doubling time assume that the rate remains constant at all times as the tumor grows.

Wenn dem so wäre, würde Krebs mit einer Verdopplungszeit von 200 Tagen 20 Jahre brauchen, um sich zu einem nachweisbaren Tumor zu entwickeln. Eine Verdopplungszeit von 100 Tagen würde 10 Jahre dauern, um bei der Prüfung gefunden zu werden. Im Gegensatz dazu würde ein Brusttumor mit einer Verdopplungszeit von 20 Tagen nur 2 Jahre brauchen, um sich zu entwickeln.

(Video) How fast does breast cancer start grow and spread? | Dr Ramya Valiveru | Endocrine & Breast Surgeon

Most studies have found that the average doubling time is between 50 and 200 days. This means it is possible that breast cancer diagnosed now may have started at least 5 years earlier, but again this assumes the rate of growth is constant. It is not.

When can breast cancer be detected for the first time?

The earlier breast cancer is discovered, the greater the chance of recovery. This is why routine mammography screenings and breast self-exams are so important.

breast exam

The size at which you can feel a lump in the breast may vary. Lumps tend to be larger when people find them at home than when found by a healthcare provider.

If examined by a healthcare provider:

  • Breast lumps that are 0.5 to 1.0 cm (half an inch or less) may occursometimesbe felt by an experienced provider
  • Lumps that are 1.0 to 1.5 cm in size are found in about 60% of cases
  • Lumps that are 2.0 cm or larger are found 96% of the time

When women do self-exams:

  • The average size of a tumor is 1 cm when detected during regular breast self-exams
  • The average size of a tumor is 2.62 cm when found by women who do not do self-examination

While there has been controversy over whether women need to perform breast self-exams, what is clear is that regular breast exams are likely to find a tumor if it is smaller.


Breast cancer is sometimes detected when it is very smallMicrocalcifications in the chest. (These are small calcium deposits that can be an early sign of cancer.) The average size of a tumor found on a mammogram is 1.1 cm. The earliest a tumor can be found on a mammogram is when it is between 0.2 cm and 0.3 cm in diameter.

Researchers have studied how effective mammograms are in detecting breast cancer. Some believe that an increase in women undergoing mammography since the 1980s is associated with trends in the average size of tumors at the time of breast cancer diagnosis.

From 1984 to 2014, the average size of breast cancer at the time of diagnosis decreased by 26% from 2.6 cm to 2.0 cm. However, another study looked at the size of breast tumors at diagnosis between 2001 and 2014. It found that the size of breast tumors increased by 3% to 13% compared to before.

breast MRI

To date, there is little data to describe the average size or the smallest size of a breast tumor that can be found by breast MRI. It can be a more sensitive and useful tool for women who have a family history of breast cancer.

A newer technique called "rapid MRI" may offer a higher detection rate than mammography alone in people at average risk, particularly women with dense breast tissue.

Rapid MRI screening for breast cancer


How fast breast cancer grows is determined by the growth rate of the cancer cells. It also relies on "doubling time" models used to estimate this growth. The subtype of breast cancer is a major factor in its growth. Other factors include Ki-67 tumor marker levels and tumor grade, which includes the physical characteristics of cancer cells when viewed under a microscope in the laboratory.

(Video) Cancer: growth & spread

How fast the cancer grows can vary, but early detection can lead to better outcomes. Be sure to see your doctor for routine mammography screenings and exams to detect breast cancer in its earliest and most treatable stages.

A word from Verywell

Women are often told that they can wait to start treatment. It's true that a short wait can be important while you seek a second opinion and prepare for care. However, waiting longer may not be better, especially for tumors that are triple negative or show other patterns of rapid growth.

How quickly some tumors can spread is a key factor in deciding treatment options. Be sure to see your doctor right away if you have a breast lump and discuss your options if you need breast cancer treatment.

frequently asked Questions

  • What is the survival rate for breast cancer?

    According to the National Cancer Institute, the five-year survival rates for breast cancer diagnosed between 2010 and 2016 were as follows:

    • 99% for localized cancer (only at the original site)
    • 86% for regional cancer (spreading to adjacent structures or lymph nodes)
    • 28% for distant cancer (spread to distant body parts such as lungs and bones)
  • How fast does inflammatory breast cancer spread?

    Inflammatory breast cancer grows and spreads faster than other types of breast cancer. Symptoms develop quickly, usually within three to six months. These include breast swelling, purple or red skin color, and dimples or thickening of the breast skin.


1. Breast Cancer Type and Stage: What You Need to Know
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2. Breast Cancer Survivor Stories
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3. Spying On Breast Cancer Metastasis
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4. Where Does Breast Cancer Spread?
5. What tumors eat -- and how to poison them | Dr. Christal Sohl | TEDxTulsaCC
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