Everything You Need to Know About Medullary Breast Cancer

Medullary Breast Cancer is a rare type of cancer with a better than average prognosis. Here’s everything you need to know about the disease.

Similar to most other types of breast cancer, medullary breast cancer may not manifest in any type of visible symptoms during its early stages. This is a rare type of breast cancer that accounts for only about 5 percent of all breast cancer cases. However, the good news is that medullary breast cancer actually offers a better prognosis and survival rate as compared to other breast cancers. If you have been diagnosed with medullary breast cancer, here’s everything you need to know about its symptoms, diagnostic methods, and treatment options.

What is medullary breast cancer?

Medullary breast cancer is a rarely-occurring type of invasive ductal breast cancer. One of the pivotal risk factors of this cancer is a genetic mutation known as BRCA-1. People who are carriers of this genetic mutation have a higher chance of getting medullary breast cancer. Similar to other types of invasive ducal breast cancer, this type of cancer also starts in the milk duct of breasts before spreading to other tissues eventually. The word “medullary” comes from the fact that the epidemiology of the tumors of medullary breast cancer resemble the graying soft tissue matter in the medulla or the brainstem.

How is medullary breast cancer different from other breast cancers?

As compared to other types of ductal breast cancers, medullary breast cancer differs on a number of counts. The medullary tumors are actually smaller than average at about 2cms or so. Even though they are small, the cells of this cancer are high grade ones. This means that the cells look very distinct from normal cells, and are generally dividing very rapidly. Known as triple-negative tumors, these cells generally test negative for progesterone and estrogen receptors, as well as the protein HER2 or neu.

The characteristics of medullary breast cancer are actually much more aggressive than regular ductal breast cancers. So how does this type of cancer present a better prognosis? Though the tumor cells are more aggressive, they generally do not spread to the lymph nodes. The cells are also more responsive to regular treatment. Owing to these factors, medullary breast cancer prognosis tends to be much better than other common types of invasive ductal breast cancers, and thereby, offer a better survival rate.

What are the symptoms of medullary breast cancer?

Though this type of cancer does not manifest in any early symptoms, there are a few signs and symptoms that you can watch out for. These include a small lump that may form in the breast. In general, this lump would be less than 2cm in size, and may be either soft and fleshy or slightly firm to touch in constitution. This carcinoma may also cause other symptoms such as swelling, pain, redness, and/or tenderness in the breast area.

What are the primary diagnostic tools for medullary breast cancer?

A medullary carcinoma tends to be difficult to find with routine tests such as a mammogram or ultrasound. However, some studies say that the lump is more likely to be found and diagnosed during self-examination or a routine check-up with your doctor.

The key to an accurate medullary breast cancer diagnosis remains a biopsy wherein a few cells from the cancerous tissue are extracted and tested under a microscope. Distinguishing a medullary breast cancer from other types of invasive ductal cancers is easier said than done. It is prudent to check the accreditation and experience of the pathologist, as well as get a second opinion, if you receive a medullary breast cancer diagnosis.

What is the prognosis and treatment of medullary breast cancer?

Post-treatment, the 1-year survival rate for medullary breast cancer is as high as 92 percent which is good news for anyone diagnosed with the condition. Successful treatment of medullary breast cancer is possible because even though the cancerous tumor may grow large in size, it does not generally metastasize or spread, and responds well to treatments. Treatment options include a lumpectomy to remove the tumor and surrounding affected tissue, mastectomy to surgically remove all of the breast tissue, chemotherapy and/or radiation treatment. Often a combination of treatments is used for optimal effect.