Angiosarcomas of the breast are a type of soft tissue sarcoma. They start in cells in the walls of blood vessels or lymphatic vessels.
What breast angiosarcoma is
Angiosarcomas are a type of soft tissue sarcoma. They are cancers that start in the cells that make up the walls of blood vessels or lymphatic vessels. There are 2 main types:
- haemangiosarcomas start in blood vessel walls
- lymphangiosarcomas start in lymph vessel walls
Doctors don't tend to refer to these different types, and generally just use the term angiosarcoma.
Breast angiosarcomas are very rare and it is difficult to find much information about them. Medical journals and textbooks contain very few reports of primary breast angiosarcomas.
Most reported cases are in younger women. Some women have developed angiosarcoma as a result of having radiotherapy to their breast for a previous breast cancer.
These cancers tend to grow quickly and are generally difficult to successfully treat.
Symptoms of breast angiosarcoma
The symptoms may be similar to other types of breast cancer, including:
- a lump or thickening in an area of the breast
- a change in the size or shape of a breast
- dimpling of the skin
- a change in the shape of your nipple, particularly if it turns in, sinks into the breast, or has an irregular shape
- a blood stained discharge from the nipple
- a rash on a nipple or surrounding area
- a swelling or lump in the armpit
Angiosarcomas also often have changes in the skin colour in the area. There isn't always a lump, and they might show up as an area of skin that has changed in colour or appearance.
Diagnosing breast angiosarcoma
You go to a specialist breast clinic. At the breast clinic the doctor or specialist nurse takes your medical history and examines your breasts. They also feel for any swollen (enlarged) lymph nodes under your arms and at the base of your neck.
You have some of the following tests:
- a mammogram (an x-ray of the breasts)
- an ultrasound (you are more likely to have this instead of a mammogram if you are under 35)
- a biopsy – your doctor or nurse take a small sample of cells or tissue from your breast to look at under a microscope
Treatment for breast angiosarcoma
Because breast angiosarcomas are so rare, there is no established standard treatment.
Removal of the breast (mastectomy) and chemotherapy are the most likely choices of treatment. The chemotherapy drugs might be different from those usually used to treat other types of breast cancer. There is no standard chemotherapy combination.
Radiotherapy might not be an option if you have had radiotherapy for breast cancer in the past.
Coping with a rare type of breast cancer
Coping with a diagnosis of cancer can be difficult, both practically and emotionally. It can be especially difficult if you have a rare cancer. Being well informed about your cancer and its treatment can make it easier to make decisions and cope with what happens.
Talking to other people who have the same thing can help. But it can be hard to find people who have had a rare type of cancer.
Cancer Chat is Cancer Research UK’s discussion forum. It is a place for anyone affected by cancer. You can share experiences, stories and information with other people who know what you are going through.
Help and support
The Rare Cancer Alliance gives information and support to people with rare cancers.
Trials and research
There may be fewer clinical trials for rare types of cancer, than for more common types. It is hard to organise and run trials for rare cancers. Getting enough patients is critical to the success of a trial. The results won't be powerful enough to prove that one type of treatment is better than another if the trial is too small.
The International Rare Cancers Initiative (IRCI) aims to develop more research into new treatments for rare cancers. They are designing trials that involve several countries so that more people will be available to enter trials.