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Rare types of breast cancer

Doctors have developed ways of grouping breast cancers into different types. They call rarer breast cancers special type and the more common breast cancers no special type. The most common breast cancer is ductal carcinoma and this is often described as being of no special type. You may see this written as NST or NOS (not otherwise specified).

Special type breast cancers have cells with particular features. As well as the rare cancers listed here, lobular breast cancer is also classed as a special type.

Rare types of breast cancer include

  • Medullary breast cancer
  • Mucinous (mucoid or colloid) breast cancer
  • Tubular breast cancer
  • Adenoid cystic carcinoma of the breast
  • Metaplastic breast cancer
  • Angiosarcoma of the breast
  • Lymphoma of the breast
  • Basal type breast cancer
  • Phyllodes or cytosarcoma phyllodes
  • Papillary breast cancer

 

CR PDF Icon You can view and print the quick guides for all the pages in the About breast cancer section.

 

 

Grouping breast cancers

Doctors have developed ways of grouping breast cancers into different types. They sometimes call rarer breast cancers special type and the more common breast cancers no special type

The most common type of breast cancer is invasive ductal carcinoma and this is often described as being of no special type. You may see this written as NST or NOS (not otherwise specified).

Special type breast cancers have cells with particular features. As well as the rare cancers listed here, lobular breast cancer is also classed as a special type.

 

Medullary breast cancer

About 5 out of 100 breast cancers (5%) are medullary breast cancers. The cancer cells tend to be bigger than other breast cancer cells. And when doctors look at these cancers under a microscope they can see a clear boundary between the tumour and the normal tissue. This type of breast tumour is also unusual because it contains white blood cells. It is more common in women who have inherited a faulty BRCA 1 gene.

Doctors treat medullary breast cancer in the same way as other types of invasive breast cancer. Women with medullary breast cancer generally have a better outcome than women with other types of invasive breast cancer.

 

Mucinous (mucoid or colloid) breast cancer

About 2 in 100 breast cancers (2%) are mucinous breast cancers. This type of cancer tends to be slower growing than other types of breast cancers and is less likely to spread to the lymph nodes.

Doctors usually treat mucinous cancers in the same way as other types of breast cancer. They remove the cancer with surgery, either taking away the whole breast (mastectomy) or part of the breast (a wide local excision). If the tumour is smaller than 1 cm, you may not need your lymph nodes removed. The outlook for mucinous breast cancer is generally very good.

 

Tubular breast cancer

Tubular cancer of the breast is called tubular because the cells look like tubes when seen under a microscope. Only about 1 in 100 breast cancers (1%) are tubular cancers.

Treatment is the same as for other types of invasive breast cancer. But you may not need to have your lymph nodes removed. This type of breast cancer is also less likely than other types to come back after treatment. So, the outlook is generally good.

 

Adenoid cystic carcinoma of the breast

Fewer than 1 in 100 breast cancers (1%) are adenoid cystic cancers. This type of cancer is also sometimes called a cribriform cancer. It is a cancer type that is more often diagnosed in the salivary glands. But this does not mean that you have salivary gland cancer – it is just a similar type of cell that is affected.

Adenoid cystic breast cancer tends to be slow growing. Doctors usually recommend surgery. Most women don’t need to have a mastectomy. Instead, your doctor will just remove the area of the cancer. This operation is called a wide local excision.

The cancer rarely spreads elsewhere in the body. So you don't usually need to have your lymph nodes removed. And the risk of this type of tumour coming back is low, so the outlook is good.

 

Metaplastic breast cancer

This type of breast cancer is a mixture of two cell types. The cells have started out as one cell type, such as an adenocarcinoma, but some of them have changed into another type of breast cell.

Doctors treat metaplastic cell cancers in the same way as other breast cancers. You may have surgery, chemotherapy and radiotherapy. But metaplastic breast tumours tend not to be sensitive to hormone therapy.

 

Angiosarcoma of the breast

Angiosarcoma is a type of breast sarcoma. A sarcoma is a cancer that develops from the structural, supporting tissues of the body, such as connective tissue, bone, blood vessel or nerve tissue. Fewer than 1 in 100 breast cancers (1%) are sarcomas. 

Angiosarcoma (pronounced ann-gee-oh-sar-co-ma) is also sometimes called haemangiosarcoma (hee-man-gee-oh-sar-co-ma). It starts in the cells that line the blood or lymphatic vessels. These cancers are more common in women in their 30s and 40s who have not yet had their menopause. 

An angiosarcoma in the breast is usually at least 4 cm in size, and the skin over it may turn a bluish colour. We don't know the cause but one possible cause in older women is chronic swelling (lymphoedema) following a mastectomy and previous radiotherapy to the area.

Doctors usually treat these tumours with surgery and chemotherapy. There is information about breast angiosarcoma in the breast cancer questions section.

 

Lymphoma of the breast

Lymphomas of the breast contain both lymphoid tissue and breast tissue. If your doctor diagnoses lymphoma of the breast, they will arrange further tests for you. The tests are to check for lymphoma elsewhere in your body. You can find out more about this in our non Hodgkin’s lymphoma section

Depending on the type and size of the lymphoma the treatment may be chemotherapy or radiotherapy, or both, and possibly surgery.

 

Basal type breast cancer

In basal type breast cancer the cells have particular genetic changes. The p53 gene is damaged (mutated) or lost. The cells make large amounts of a protein called cytokeratin 5/6. Basal type breast cancers are often triple negative, which means that they don't have many receptors for oestrogen, progesterone, or Her2. So, hormone therapies and trastuzumab (Herceptin) don't work for most basal type cancer cells. Doctors use other treatments such as surgery, chemotherapy and radiotherapy instead.

 

Phyllodes or cystosarcoma phyllodes

Phyllodes (pronounced fi-loi-d-ees) or cystosarcoma phyllodes is a type of breast tumour that can be either cancerous (malignant) or non cancerous (benign). If cancerous, it may spread into the lymph nodes but this is rare. Surgery is the main treatment. Sometimes radiotherapy or chemotherapy are also used but this is not common.

 

Papillary breast cancer

In papillary carcinoma, the breast cancer cells are in a pattern that looks a bit like the shape of a fern. Papillary tumours tend to affect older women. They can also be non cancerous (benign).

Doctors usually treat papillary breast cancer with surgery. These cancers usually grow slowly, and don’t usually spread to the lymph glands or other parts of the body.

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Updated: 30 July 2014