Invasive lobular carcinoma is one type of breast cancer that originates in the glands or lobules that produce milk in the breast. It is an invasive type of cancer, where malignant cells break out of the lobules and begin to spread to other parts of the body.
Invasive lobular carcinoma is much less common than other types of breast cancer. The most common is ductal carcinoma, the type that begins in breast ducts. For those with higher risks for invasive lobular carcinoma, effective prevention measures can be taken.
Causes of Invasive Lobular Carcinoma
The definite cause of invasive lobular carcinoma is not clear. However, research suggests that it may have genetic origins. Mutations in DNA (our genetic material) can lead to changes in breast cells located in the glands that produce milk. These mutations cause cells to grow and divide more rapidly and in abnormal patterns. The resulting cancer cells invade tissues in a web-like pattern, producing a thickening in the breast. These invading cells can migrate to other organs in the body, including the lungs, liver, brain, and bones.
Factors that increase one’s risk of invasive lobular carcinoma may include:
- Female gender. Men can develop cancer in the breast, but women are more likely to be affected.
- Older age. Breast cancer risk increases as women age. Affected women are usually older than those who have other types of breast carcinoma.
- Lobular carcinoma in situ or LCIS. LCIS increase your risk of getting any type of breast cancer. Malignant cells confined within the breast lobules increases your risk of invasive cancer in the breast.
- Postmenopausal hormone therapy. Some postmenopausal women use estrogen, with or without progesterone, to reduce their symptoms. However, research shows that these hormones may stimulate the growth of breast tumors.
- Genetic factors. Women may inherit genes that are linked with a rare condition (hereditary diffuse gastric cancer syndrome), which increases their risk of both gastric (stomach) and breast cancer. Others have inherited genes that increase their risk of ovarian and breast cancers.
Early stages of invasive lobular carcinoma may have no signs or symptoms. However, as cancer grows larger, it may cause:
- Thickening of an area in your breast
- A swollen or full area in your breast
- Changes in the appearance or texture of the breast skin (dimpling/ thickening)
- Nipple inversion
A breast lump is not a common characteristic of invasive lobular carcinoma.
Invasive lobular carcinoma may have complications such as:
- Cancer in your other breast. Unlike other types of cancer, invasive lobular cancer is more likely to affect both breasts.
- Metastatic cancer. Invasive lobular carcinoma can slowly spread or metastasize outside the breast to other organs in the body.
When to See a Doctor
If you have any of these symptoms consult your doctor immediately. You can also ask your health provider when you should start having screening tests for cancer in the breast. These include physical examinations and mammograms. Some experts recommend women having regular mammograms in their 40s. However, having a strong family history of the disease or other risk factors may influence your doctor to recommend screening tests at an earlier age.
Diagnosis for Invasive Lobular Carcinoma
This test obtains an X-ray image of the breasts and can detect the presence of invasive lobular carcinoma or other types of breast cancer.
This test uses sound waves to detect breast cancer, although it may be more difficult to identify invasive lobular carcinoma compared with other types of cancer.
Magnetic resonance imaging uses strong magnetic fields to evaluate the extent of breast cancer if other tests are inconclusive.
4. Tumor Biopsy
A biopsy to obtain a sample of suspicious breast tissue may be done either using a needle or minor surgery.
Treatments for Invasive Lobular Carcinoma
Treatment using a combination of special drugs to destroy the cancer cells is called chemotherapy. The drugs may be taken by mouth or given through the veins before surgery to reduce tumor size or after surgery to kill any remaining cancer cell.
2. Radiation Therapy
Also called radiotherapy, this treatment uses high-power energy beams to kill cancerous cells. It may be used to reduce tumor size or to kill cancer cells that have invaded the lymph nodes.
3. Hormone Therapy
Some tumors are sensitive to hormones, and this type of treatment aims to block production of hormones in the body or to block the ability of cancer cells to use those hormones.
Surgical treatment may take various methods of treating breast cancer:
- Wide Excision or Lumpectomy. This involves removing the tumor and a small portion of healthy breast tissue while allowing you to keep most of the breast.
- Mastectomy. This involves removing the whole breast. With a simple mastectomy, the surgeon will remove only the breast, but with a modified radical mastectomy, skin muscles and the lymph nodes are removed as well.
- Biopsy of Sentinel Lymph Node. Lymph nodes near the breast are removed for evaluation for spread of cancer. If they are found positive for cancer cells, other lymph nodes are removed as well.
- Axillary Dissection for Lymph Nodes. Spread of cancer to the lymph nodes in the axilla or armpit may be treated by dissecting and removing these. This may be followed by radiation therapy and/or chemotherapy.
Preventions for Invasive Lobular Carcinoma
There are some ways to reduce the risk of breast cancer and these include:
1. Discuss with a Doctor the Risks and Benefits of Hormone Therapy
Postmenopausal hormone therapy may reduce uncomfortable symptoms of menopause but increase your risk of breast cancer. Ask your doctor about using the lowest dose of hormones for a short duration if you need hormonal treatment.
2. Drink Alcohol Moderately
Women who drink alcohol should limit the amount they consume to less than one drink per day.
3. Exercise Regularly
Experts recommend engaging in exercise at least 30 minutes a day on most days of the week.
4. Maintain a Healthy Weight
Studies suggest that there is a link between obesity and breast cancer. To reduce your risk for breast cancer, maintain a healthy body weight or lose excess weight by consuming a healthy balance diet.
Women who have a strong family history of breast cancer or who feel they may have an increased risk for the disease are encouraged to discuss these concerns with their health care providers. Regular screening for breast cancer may be recommended for those with high risks.