Angiosarcoma of the breast

Angiosarcomas of the breast are a type of soft tissue sarcoma.

What is breast angiosarcoma?

Breast angiosarcomas are cancers that start in the cells that make up the walls of blood vessels or lymphatic vessels. They are very rare and make up less than 1 in 100 breast cancers (less than 1 %). 

It is mostly seen in women, but men can also get this type of breast cancer. 

They are divided into:

  • primary angiosarcoma
  • secondary angiosarcoma

Primary angiosarcoma of the breast starts in the breast tissue and may involve the skin of the breast. They tend to develop in younger women in their 30s or 40s. 

Most secondary angiosarcomas of the breast occur due to having radiotherapy to the breast for a previous breast cancer. These cancers usually develop in older women. 

Angiosarcomas tend to grow quickly and are generally difficult to treat.

Symptoms of breast angiosarcoma

The symptoms are 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 the nipple, particularly if it turns in, sinks into the breast, or has an irregular shape
  • a rash or bruising on the breast or nipple
  • a swelling or lump in the armpit

Angiosarcomas may also cause changes in the skin colour in the breast. 

Diagnosing breast angiosarcoma

In some 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 (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
  • an MRI scan

Treatment for breast angiosarcoma

Because breast angiosarcomas are so rare, there is no established standard treatment.

Removal of the breast (mastectomy) is usually recommended. You may also have a sentinel lymph node biopsy. This depends on whether there are abnormal lymph nodes in the armpit (axilla).  

You might have chemotherapy or targeted drugs. The choice of chemotherapy drugs might be different from those usually used to treat other types of breast cancer.

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

Find more information and support from the following:   

Cancer Research UK nurses

For support and information, you can call the Cancer Research UK information nurses. They can give advice about who can help you and what kind of support is available. Freephone: 0808 800 4040 - Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm.

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.

  • Early and locally advanced breast cancer: diagnosis and treatment
    National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), June 2018

  • Primary breast angiosarcoma in a young woman
    S Lacoponi and others
    International Journal of Surgical Case Reports. 2016. Volume 24, Pages 101-103

  • Radiation-Associated Angiosarcoma of the Breast: Clinical and Pathologic Features
    S Shah and M Rosa
    Archives Pathology Laboratory Medicine, 2016, volume 140, issue 5

  • Primary angiosarcoma of the breast series of 11 consecutive cases a single-centre experience
    M. Kunkiel and Others
    Current Oncology, 2018. Volume 2, Issue 1, pages 50-53

  • The Textbook of Uncommon Cancer (5th edition)
    D Raghavan, MS Ahluwalia, CD Blanke and others 
    Wiley Blackwell, 2017

  • Primary angiosarcoma of the breast

    D Bordoni and others

    International Journal of Surgery 2016. Volume 20, Pages 12-15.

Last reviewed: 
24 Feb 2020
Next review due: 
24 Feb 2023

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