Invasive Lobular Carcinoma (ILC)

According to the American Cancer Society, over 180,000 American women find out each year that they have some form of invasive breast cancer.  Invasive lobular carcinoma is the second most common type of invasive breast cancer type (next to invasive ductal carcinoma) and accounts for about 10% of this total.  Let’s talk further about the symptoms, diagnosis, treatment and follow-up to this disease.

Invasive lobular carcinoma is a type of cancer which originates in the milk producing lobules of the breast.  These lobules are directly connected to the milk ducts which carry the milk out to the nipples of the breast.

This type of breast cancer is referred to as invasive since the cancer which begins in the lobules eventually spreads to other parts of the breast.  It can also affect the lymph nodes.

This type of breast cancer affects primarily women who are over the age of 55.  It may be difficult to detect through physical symptoms.  In addition this type of breast cancer is more difficult to spot in a mammogram than the more common invasive ductal carcinoma.  This is because instead of forming a lump, the cancer cells tend to collect in the connective tissue in a narrow line.

However it is important to pay close attention to physical changes if/when they occur.  This can include:

  • Skin irritation or dimpling in the breast tissue
  • Swelling in all or part of the breast tissue
  • Persistent pain in the breast
  • Persistent pain in and around the nipples
  • Redness or thickening of the tissue around the nipple
  • Unusual discharge from the nipple
  • A lump in the underarm section

In order to properly diagnose this type of cancer, a number of tests and procedures may be employed.  The first part of the testing would entail a physical examination of the breasts and lymph nodes to look for unusual signs, lumps swelling or other potential warning signs.

Then a mammogram would be used to view detailed x-ray images of the breast.  However as indicated earlier, the use of this test may not be as accurate for the detection and assessment of invasive lobular carcinoma.  Any tumors identified may appear smaller than they actually are. So other tests such as Ultrasound and Breast MRI are used as well.

If an area of concern is identified, a biopsy is generally performed to further assess the presence and extent of cancer.  A needle biopsy in the least invasive type of procedure so Doctors try to use this method as much as possible.  If this cannot occur then a surgical incision is made to gain access to the affected area.

In order to treat the disease most effectively, surgical procedures are used to remove as much of the cancerous tissue as possible.  This can be done through a lumpectomy which removes a portion of the breast or a mastectomy which removes the entire breast.  In addition a portion of the lymph nodes may be removed depending on the extent and severity of cancer in that area.

In many cases the surgical procedure is followed by either chemotherapy or radiation therapy in order to try to make certain that all cancer cells have either been removed or destroyed.  In addition if it has been found that the cancer has spread beyond the breasts then other kinds of chemotherapy, radiation therapy or other procedures may be employed to treat any cancer which may have spread to other areas of the body.

In many cases the surgical procedures followed by chemo or radiation can be very effective at eradicating the cancer.  However this is greatly affected by the stage in which the cancer is identified.  The earlier it can be detected the better.  Therefore the course of treatment and its effectiveness will be greatly influenced by this.

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