Metaplastic carcinoma transforms breast cancer

Breast cancer occurs when cells in your breast divide and grow, and make copies of your DNA with errors in it. These DNA errors cause that specific type of cell to grow out of control and into a tumor. Usually, breast cancer tumors are made up of only one type of cell, such as ductal cells or lobule cells.

Rarely (less than one percent of the time) women develop a type of breast cancer called metaplastic carcinoma. Metaplastic carcinomas start out as tumors that contain one type of cell, but transform into tumors made up of different types of cancer cells. For instance, the cancer may start out as cells that line the glands in your breast and then change into skin cancer cells.

Metaplastic carcinomas are also a type of breast cancer called triple-negative breast cancer. This type of breast cancer doesn't use hormones to grow and doesn't have a HER2 gene that makes the cells grow out of control.

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Does metaplastic carcinoma have any symptoms?

Metaplastic breast cancer shares the same symptoms as other types of breast cancer, including:

  • Skin of the breast becomes red, scaly or dimpled
    Breast is warm or swollen
    Nipple becomes dented, has discharge or changes shape or size
    Breast tissues become thicker or lumpier than normal

If you have any of these symptoms, you should speak to your doctor.

Personalized treatments fight metaplastic carcinoma

Though it's a rare cancer, metaplastic carcinoma can be treated in the same ways as other types of breast cancer: with surgery, radiation therapy and chemotherapy. However, your doctor will need to personalize the treatment to your specific type of cancer.

The first step in your treatment is to have surgery to remove the metaplastic carcinoma tumors. Your doctor may suggest just removing the tumors (lumpectomy) or removing the entire breast (mastectomy). If the cancer has spread to your lymph nodes, those will be removed, too.

You'll also have chemotherapy, which uses different medicines to kill cancer cells no matter where they are in your body. If you have a large tumor, you may get chemotherapy before surgery to shrink the tumor and make it easier to remove (called neoadjuvant therapy).

Chemotherapy is typically used to make sure that cancer doesn't come back (adjuvant therapy). This treatment is important, since metaplastic carcinoma is made up of different cells, can grow quickly and doesn't respond to all adjuvant therapies.

Radiation therapy, another adjuvant therapy, makes sure that all cells in your breast and lymph nodes are gone after surgery. Radiation therapy uses high-powered particles or X-ray beams to destroy cancer cells. Because radiation therapy is very precisely aimed, healthy cells will not be damaged by this treatment.

Because it's a triple-negative cancer, metaplastic carcinoma doesn't benefit from other adjuvant therapies, including hormone therapy or targeted therapies.

After your entire treatment is complete, you may choose to have reconstructive plastic surgery to rebuild your breast. You'll also continue to see your cancer doctor every few months for years after your treatment to make sure the cancer doesn't come back.