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One size fits all?

Think again.

Breast cancer is not simply one disease. Why should you care about understanding that one of the most commonly diagnosed cancers among women is not one type? Because you or someone you love will likely be affected by breast cancer in your lifetime.


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A Closer Look

Breast cancer is extremely complex and not a one-size-fits-all disease. It’s classified into different types based on the unique characteristics of each tumor, including the subtype, size, lymph node status and stage, among others. Recognizing that breast cancer is not one type will empower women and their loved ones to engage in helpful conversations and make more informed treatment decisions with their doctors.


What's causing the cancer to grow?

This is where the broad term 'breast cancer' gets more specifically defined by studying the individual's cancer cells. Different from healthy cells, cancer cells are mutated and multiplying out of control and their biology determines subtype.3

Hormone receptor-positive: the cancer cells contain receptors for the hormones estrogen or progesterone. This means the cancer depends on one or both of these hormones to grow.4

HER2-positive: the cancer cells have excess HER2 protein causing the cancer to grow.5

Triple-negative: the cancer cells do not have hormone receptors or excess HER2 protein. Something else is causing the cancer to grow.4,5

These are example subtypes. A patient could also have a combination of subtypes, and/or other factors contributing to cancer growth.


How big is the tumor?

Breast cancer tumors vary in shape and size – from microscopic to more than 5 cm wide.6

Status (Lymph Node)

Has it spread to any lymph nodes?

The lymph nodes are small structures that are part of the body's immune system.7 They are connected together by lymph vessels.7 Lymph nodes under the arms are one of the first places breast cancer is likely to spread.8


Has it spread to other organs?

Stage indicates whether the cancer has spread and, if so, how far.6 Tumor size, lymph node status and other factors also help determine stage.6 A higher stage number means the cancer has spread more.6 For example, stage IV means the cancer has spread to other organs (metastasized).9

Questions to Ask

If you or a loved one is diagnosed, screenshot and use this list of questions in conversations with the doctor. Take notes you can refer to later. Even outside of the doctor’s office, being more informed will make you a more engaged patient or supporter.

About the cancer

  • How large is the tumor?
  • Has the cancer spread to the lymph nodes?
  • What is the stage?
  • What is the HER2 status? Hormone receptor status?
  • Is this cancer at high risk of coming back or spreading? Why?
  • Are there any new diagnostic tests appropriate for my tumor?

About treatment options

  • Is surgery necessary? If so, is other treatment necessary before or after surgery?
  • Why do you recommend this particular treatment plan? Are there other treatment options to consider?
  • Can you explain what these medicines do to the cancer in the body?
  • What are the possible side effects of treatment?
  • Are there clinical trials available?

To learn more about breast cancer, visit Living Beyond Breast Cancer's website,

Real Stories

Watch as real women talk about their unique experiences with breast cancer.

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The Partners

Not One Type is a campaign brought to you by Living Beyond Breast Cancer and Genentech to change the perception that breast cancer is one disease.

Living Beyond

Living Beyond Breast Cancer provides programs and services to help people whose lives have been impacted by breast cancer. The organization’s goal is to provide information, community and support for anyone living with breast cancer that is easy to access and respectful of any situation.

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For the last 40 years, Genentech has pursued groundbreaking science to discover, develop, manufacture and commercialize medicines to treat patients with serious and life-threatening medical conditions. Visit their website to learn more.

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1 American Cancer Society. Cancer Facts & Figures 2018. Atlanta: American Cancer Society; 2018.

2 Wallner LP, et al. Decision-support networks of women newly diagnosed with breast cancer. Cancer 2017;123(20):3895-3903.

3 Kohler BA, et al. Annual Report to the Nation on the Status of Cancer, 1975-2011, Featuring Incidence of Breast Cancer Subtypes by Race/Ethnicity, Poverty, and State. J Natl Cancer Inst 2015;107(6):djv048.

4 American Cancer Society. Breast Cancer Hormone Receptor Status. Accessed March 15, 2018.

5 American Cancer Society. Breast Cancer HER2 Status. Accessed March 15, 2018.

6 American Cancer Society. Breast Cancer Stages. Accessed March 15, 2018.

7 American Cancer Society. Lymph Nodes and Cancer. Accessed March 15, 2018.

8 National Cancer Institute. Sentinel Lymph Node Biopsy. Accessed March 15, 2018.

9 National Cancer Institute. NCI Dictionary of Cancer Terms. Stave IV Breast Cancer. Accessed March 15, 2018.

10 Esserman LJ and Joe BN. Clinical features, diagnosis, and staging of newly diagnosed breast cancer. In: UpToDate. Hayes DF, Burstein H, Vora SR (eds.). Waltham, MA: UpToDate, 2018.