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Invasive lobular breast cancer

Read about invasive lobular breast cancer and how it is diagnosed and treated.

What invasive lobular breast cancer is

Invasive lobular breast cancer means that the cancer started in the cells that line the lobules and has spread into the surrounding breast tissue. The lobules are the glands that make milk when breastfeeding.

Remember that if your doctor has told you that you have lobular carcinoma in situ (LCIS), you don't have invasive lobular breast cancer. These are two different things.

Lobular carcinoma in situ (LCIS)

About invasive lobular breast cancer

More than 1 in 10 breast cancers diagnosed (12.2%) are invasive lobular carcinoma. This type can develop in women of any age. But it is most common in women between 45 and 55 years old.

Breast cancer is very rare in men. It is also very unusual for a man to have an invasive lobular type of breast cancer.

Symptoms

Invasive lobular breast cancer doesn't always form a firm lump. You are more likely to have a thickened area of breast tissue.

Possible symptoms include:

  • an area of thickening or swelling
  • a change in the nipple, for example it might turn inwards (become inverted)
  • a change in the skin, such as dimpling or thickening

While invasive lobular breast cancer can cause these particular symptoms, it’s worth being aware of the general symptoms of breast cancer.

Diagnosing invasive lobular breast cancer

In many women the cancer is found during breast screening. 

If you have symptoms and see your GP they refer you to a specialist breast clinic. At the breast clinic the doctor or breast care 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 (if you are under 35 you are more likely to have an ultrasound scan instead of a mammogram)
  • a biopsy – a small sample of cells or tissue is taken from your breast and looked at under a microscope
  • a breast MRI scan – this scan uses magnetic fields to create images of the breast tissue

Treatment for invasive lobular breast

The treatment for invasive lobular breast cancer is the same as for the more common type of breast cancer (invasive breast cancer NST).

Usually, you have surgery to remove the area of cancer and a surrounding area of healthy tissue. This operation is called a wide local excision or lumpectomy. 

Invasive lobular breast cancer is sometimes found in more than one area within the breast. In that case, it might not be possible to remove just the area of the cancer. Your doctor may then recommend removal of the whole breast (a mastectomy).

If you choose to, you can have a new breast made (breast reconstruction) at the same time as mastectomy or some time afterwards.

After the surgery you might have: 

  • radiotherapy
  • chemotherapy
  • targeted cancer drug therapy
  • a combination of these treatments

You might also have hormone therapy if your breast cancer cells have oestrogen receptors (if they are oestrogen receptor positive). Oestrogen is a female sex hormone and can make some breast cancers grow by stimulating particular receptors in the cancer cells.

Follow up

After treatment you usually have regular check ups. At the check ups your doctor or a breast care nurse will examine you and ask about your general health. This is your chance to ask questions and to tell them if anything is worrying you.

How often you have check ups depends on your individual situation but they might go on for at least 5 years. This might include yearly mammograms. 

It’s important to remember that you can contact your doctor or nurse between appointments if you are concerned about a symptom or have questions. You don't have to wait for your next appointment. You can also speak to your GP.

In some hospitals you don't have regular appointments after treatment. But if you have new symptoms or are worried about anything you can phone your doctor or breast care nurse or make an appointment to see them. 

UK guidelines say that everyone who has had treatment for early breast cancer should have a copy of a written care plan. The care plan has information about tests you will have, and signs and symptoms to look out for. It will also include contact details for specialist staff, such as your breast care nurse.

Trials and research

There are many breast cancer trials.

Breast cancer research is looking at:

  • the causes and prevention of breast cancer
  • screening and diagnosis
  • new treatments
  • ways to improve existing treatments
  • ways to cope with cancer and its treatment
Last reviewed: 
13 Oct 2017
  • Early and locally advanced breast cancer: diagnosis and treatment
    National Institute for Health and Care Excellence, 2009 (updated March 2017)

  • Differences between invasive lobular and invasive ductal carcinoma of the breast: results and therapeutic implications
    R Barroso-Sousa and O Metzger-Filho
    Therapeutic Advances in Medical Oncology, 2016, Volume 8, Issue 4

  • Lobular breast cancer series; imaging
    K Jonsson and others
    Breast Cancer Research 2015, volume 17, Issue 94

  • Male breast cancer is not congruent with the female disease
    IS Fentiman
    Critical reviews in oncology/haematology, 2016, volume 101

  • Statistical Information Team at Cancer Research UK

Information and help

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