Leaf-like phyllodes tumors grow quickly in the breast

In Greek, the word phyllode means “like a leaf.” Tumors in the breast that have cells that grow in a leaf-like pattern are called phyllodes tumors. You may be tempted to compare them to a weed because they grow very quickly and tend to recur (come back).

Phyllodes tumors are rare, are typically benign (not cancerous) and do not usually spread beyond the breast tissue. Main Line Health offers complete diagnosis and treatment for benign and cancerous breast tumors, including surgical removal of phyllodes tumors.

For more information or to schedule an appointment with a breast cancer specialist at Main Line Health, call 484.476.3333 or request an appointment online.

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The difference between phyllodes tumors and fibroadenomas

Most women discover they have a phyllodes tumor because they can actually feel the lump in their breast during self-examination. Your doctor may also discover the lump during an examination. The lump is not usually painful and can easily be mistaken for a fibroadenoma — a common type of non-cancerous breast mass.

The phyllodes tumor grows very quickly and is often noticeably larger within weeks or months. It may become large enough to be seen as a bulge pressing against your skin.

Even with its quick growth and obvious lump, a phyllodes tumor is hard to diagnose because of its similarity to a fibroadenoma.

Although most types of breast masses are diagnosed through mammogram imaging or even biopsy, your doctor may not be able to confirm that you have a phyllodes tumor until it has been completely removed. Once removed, the cells can be examined under a microscope and the difference between a common fibroadenomas and the more rare phyllodes tumor will be apparent.

Complete surgical removal of phyllodes tumors

Surgery to remove a phyllodes tumor is most successful when enough normal tissue (usually at least one centimeter) surrounding the tumor is also removed. This is because phyllodes tumors will sometimes come back in the same place. By removing the additional surrounding normal tissue, it reduces your risk of having the phyllodes tumor return.

If your phyllodes tumor is cancerous, surgery to remove it is still the recommended treatment. This is because phyllodes tumors do not usually respond to other types of breast cancer treatments such as hormone therapy, chemotherapy and radiation. In some cases, such as if the phyllodes tumor is very large or there are multiple tumors, mastectomy (complete removal of the breast) may be recommended.