Melody had never heard of mucinous breast cancer when she received her diagnosis. She says, “Of course I’d heard of breast cancer - I did not know there were specific types of breast cancer though. Had never, ever heard of mucinous breast cancer and in fact found the term to be a little gross sounding. I learned that I was lucky I had mucinous breast cancer as the prognosis for this is usually very, very good, and often better than other types of breast cancer because it’s so slow growing.”
Although most of us are familiar with the most common forms of breast cancer, ductal and lobular carcinoma, there are more than a dozen variations of the disease with mucinous breast cancer making up about 2% of all breast cancer cases.
Mucinous breast cancer, also called colloid breast cancer, is different from other breast cancers because the cancer cells secrete mucin-a substance found in the digestive tract and other parts of the body. Mucinous breast cancer is more likely to be Estrogen-receptor positive, which is another good prognostic factor for patients diagnosed with it.
However, a new study by Dr. George Perkins released December 12, 2009, at the San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium, suggests that mucinous breast cancer patients may need additional treatment and screening. In this study, 38% of the mucinous breast cancer patients also had another tumor. Many of these tumors did not show on imaging tests at the time of the original diagnosis.
Dr. Perkins reports, “This actual rate of multifocal [more than one tumor] disease was a tremendous surprise and of true concern. We are also concerned that the age of disease presentation appears to be decreasing in this population. Combined with this trend of unfavorability, it’s imperative that we continue to research personalized treatment options for this subtype and that patients receive their treatment based on actual presentation rather than the assumption that this is always a favorable disease.”
Forty-four at diagnosis, Melody may be part of that trend towards younger mucinous breast cancer patients. The average age is over 70 years old, but there is a wide age variation for the disease.
Melody had her first breast biopsy at age 24 and another at age 30 for tumors that turned out to be benign. At her annual mammograms, she always told the mammographer about the scar tissue from those biopsies. In the summer of 2008, she noticed that the scar tissue from the first biopsy seemed to be growing and pushing out. A mammogram and ultrasound showed a mass, so the breast surgeon decided to do a core biopsy. Given Melody’s history with other benign tumors, the surgeon was surprised when the pathology report came back showing invasive mucinous cancer.
“After my surgeon was unable to get clean margins from my lumpectomy due to the location of the tumor, I decided to go ahead with bilateral mastectomy, with the left side being a prophylactic mastectomy. I haven’t regretted this decision, not once,” says Melody about the surgery for her 1.5 centimeter tumor.
Considering this latest study, Melody’s instinct to go ahead with a bilateral mastectomy seems on target. Compared to other forms of breast cancer, a mucinous breast cancer diagnosis is still good news. But patients with this diagnosis will want to discuss this newest study with their doctors to make sure that they receive appropriately aggressive treatment.
A year after her diagnosis, Melody is doing fine. “I feel very fortunate to be a mucinous breast cancer survivor/thriver. Having a rare type of breast cancer isn’t always a bad thing.”
Phyllis Johnson is an inflammatory breast cancer (IBC) survivor diagnosed in 1998. She has written about cancer for HealthCentral since 2007. She serves on the Board of Directors for the Inflammatory Breast Cancer Research Foundation, the oldest 501(3)© organization focused on research for IBC. She is a list monitor for an online support group at www.ibcsupport.org. Phyllis attends conferences such as the National Breast Cancer Coalition’s Project LEAD® Institute. She tweets at @mrsphjohnson.