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Lesser known types of breast cancer

Published Oct 5, 2017 at 12:00pm

Many people have been touched by breast cancer. Whether you have dealt with your own diagnosis or that of a friend or family member, the prevalence of breast cancer has left few people without a story to tell about a personal experience with this potentially deadly disease. 

According to Breastcancer.org, a nonprofit organization dedicated to proving reliable, complete and up-to-date information about breast cancer, roughly one in eight women in the United States will develop invasive breast cancer over the course of her life, while the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation notes the figures are slightly more optimistic in Canada, where one in nine women is expected to develop the disease during her lifetime.

Many of the women who develop breast cancer will be diagnosed with invasive ductal carcinoma, or IDC, which the National

Medullary carcinoma

Though medullary carcinoma diagnoses are rare, this is an invasive type of breast cancer that begins in the milk duct and spreads beyond it. The tumor that forms when a person has medullary carcinoma is a soft and fleshy mass. Medullary carcinoma cells typically appear like aggressive, abnormal cancer cells, but these cells do not grow quickly and often do not spread outside the breast to the lymph nodes, which makes medullary carcinoma a relatively easy cancer to treat. Medullary carcinoma can occur at any age, though it typically affects women in their late 40s and early 50s.

Tubular carcinoma

Tubular carcinoma is a type of IDC that starts as small, tube-shaped structures known as tubules that appear similar to normal, healthy cells. Tubular carcinoma cells grow slowly and are unlikely to spread outside of the breast, and, for that reason, tubular carcinoma typically responds well to treatment. Though tubular carcinoma once accounted for a very small percentage of breast cancer diagnoses, they are now being diagnosed more often, thanks in large part to the prevalence of screening mammography that has been catching cases of breast cancer before doctors feel a lump. Tubular carcinoma may feel less like a lump and more like a cushiony area of breast tissue.

Mucinous carcinoma

Mucinous carcinoma is also a rare type of IDC in which tumors are made up of abnormal cells in mucin, which is a part of mucus. Many types of cancer cells, including the majority of breast cancer cells, produce some mucus, which lines most of the inner surface of the normal human body. But when a person is diagnosed with mucinous carcinoma, the mucin has become part of the tumor, so when examined under a microscope, the cancer cells appear to be scattered in pools of mucus. Mucinous cancer can affect people at any age, though it is especially rare in men and most often diagnosed in women after they have gone through menopause. Mucinous carcinoma is a less aggressive type of breast cancer than others and is less likely than other types to spread to the lymph nodes. As a result, it typically responds well to treatment.

Paget’s disease of the nipple

Paget’s disease of the nipple is characterized by breast cancer cells that collect in or around the nipple. The cancer typically affects the ducts of the nipple first before spreading to the nipple surface and areola, which is the dark circle of skin around the nipple. Both the nipple and areola can and likely will become irritated, itchy, red, and scaly when a person has Paget’s disease, and these signs may be the first indicators that breast cancer is present. While Paget’s disease of the nipple is rare, the National Cancer Institute notes the importance of recognizing its symptoms, as 97 percent of people with Paget’s disease also have cancer elsewhere in the breast. Though the NCI notes that Paget’s disease can develop in both men and women, it is more common in women, among whom the average age for diagnosis is 62.