The Hidden Breast Cancer

Invasive lobular carcinoma (ILC) is a particularly rare and particularly insidious version of breast cancer. Rare, as it affects only 1 in 10 people diagnosed with invasive breast cancer. Insidious, as it can spread easily to other parts of your body like other invasive breast cancers, but ILC does all this without ever causing lumps to form. It is even more difficult to find on a mammogram!

ILC begins as mutated DNA within the milk gland within your breast and spreads out from there in a star-like pattern. What triggers the mutation is still a mystery.

Although it does not cause the tell-tale lumps we have come to associate with breast cancer, there are some, more subtle symptoms, and these include:

  • An area of thickening in part of the breast
  • A new area of fullness or swelling in the breast
  • A change in the texture or appearance of the skin over the breast, such as dimpling or thickening
  • A newly inverted nipple

Note, however, that in its very early stage ILC may betray no symptoms at all. So if you detect any of these, you are already past due to see your doctor. Some risk factors for falling victim to ILC include post-menopausal hormone use, and older age in general. If you have been previously diagnosed with lobular carcinoma in situ (LCIS) your chances for developing ILC are also elevated.

If you or your doctor suspect you may have ILC, she will likely schedule for ultrasound or magnetic resonance imaging in addition to a mammogram. Should any of these scans turn something up, your doctor will likely recommend a biopsy procedure to remove a sample of suspicious breast tissue for laboratory testing.

If you are diagnosed with ILC, your doctor has a number of treatment options, depending upon how far the cancer has spread, its stage, and your overall state of health. These include:

  • Surgery, in the form of a lumpectomy or mastectomy. The former is the removal of a small portion of the affected breast, the latter removesall the breast tissue surrounding the cancer.
  • Radiation therapy, which targets the affected area with powerful, focused beams of radiation (often x-rays) that kill the cancer cells within its field of operation. Radiation is often used in conjunction with surgery.
  • Chemotherapy, the use of powerful drugs to kill the cells, may be prescribed prior to ILC surgery to shrink the affected area, or after surgery to wipe out any cancer cell stragglers.