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Ask an Expert: Ductal Carcinoma in Situ

Read Time: 3 minutes

Kirstyn Brownson, MD (left) and Phoebe Freer, MD (right)
Kirstyn Brownson, MD (left) and Phoebe Freer, MD (right)

Ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS) is considered the earliest form of breast cancer. We asked our experts at Huntsman Cancer Institute to give an overview of the disease, including symptoms and treatments. In this piece, Kirstyn Brownson, MD, a surgical breast oncologist, and Phoebe Freer, MD, a radiologist, share their knowledge and expertise.

What is ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS)?

DCIS is a type of breast cancer that occurs when abnormal cells appear in the breast’s milk ducts. “In situ” means “in place,” so the cancer has not spread beyond the milk ducts.

What are some symptoms of DCIS?

  • Most people do not show signs or symptoms of DCIS.
  • Some people will feel a small lump in the breast. This is rare. Most DCIS can’t be felt.
  • Some people may notice a drainage or discharge from their nipple that is bloody, clear, or black and tarry. This is rare.

How can I find DCIS early?

Regular mammogram screenings help find DCIS.

Cancer screening guidelines say women should get a mammogram every year starting at age 40. Getting mammograms increases your chance of surviving breast cancer. Studies show yearly mammograms are better at finding early stage cancers.

At Huntsman Cancer Institute, most mammogram results are ready within 24 hours. Read these nine tips for your screening mammogram.

Huntsman Cancer Institute has been working to make it easier for patients to get mammograms. This includes longer scheduling hours. Patients can schedule a mammogram at multiple University of Utah Health locations.

The Huntsman Cancer Institute Cancer Screening and Education Bus also travels around Utah to offer mammograms to people who may not live near a clinic.

Is DCIS life threatening?

If found and treated early, DCIS does not pose a threat to a patient’s life because it has not spread beyond the milk duct. Most people (99%) diagnosed with DCIS go on to live a healthy life.

In some cases, if left untreated, DCIS cells can break through the duct wall and spread to nearby tissue. This is now considered invasive breast cancer and these cells can spread to other parts of the body, posing a threat to your life.

Having DCIS can signal that a person may be at increased risk for developing another type breast cancer or having DCIS come back. Learn more from Huntsman Cancer Institute's Breast Cancer Risk Clinic.

How common is DCIS?

Each year, 50,000 new cases of DCIS are diagnosed. Of all new breast cancer diagnoses, one in five are DCIS.

How is DCIS treated?

  • Lumpectomy: This is a removal of the cancerous lump, leaving the breast intact.
  • Radiation therapy: This is designed to shrink and kill cancer cells. Radiation is recommended for women who undergo a lumpectomy as their treatment for DCIS.
  • Mastectomy: This is surgery to remove the breast. Even though DCIS is a Stage 0 cancer, there are factors that make a mastectomy the preferred surgery over lumpectomy.
  • Hormone therapy: This blocks or lowers the amount of estrogen in the body. This can be recommended if a woman undergoes lumpectomy or mastectomy.

Patients with a diagnosis of only DCIS are not given chemotherapy.


Currently, Huntsman Cancer Institute has two clinical trials aimed at personalizing DCIS treatment for patients—the COMET study and the PROMISE study.

Cancer touches all of us.