Key Points about Metaplastic Breast Cancer

  • Metaplastic breast cancer is a rare type of invasive breast cancer, meaning that it has spread beyond the breast.
  • Doctors use biopsy, imaging tests and physical exam to diagnose metaplastic breast cancer.
  • Treatment for metaplastic breast cancer may include surgery, chemotherapy, hormone therapy and/or radiation therapy.
  • Following your doctor’s recommendation for starting regular mammograms is one of the best ways to reduce your risk of developing metaplastic breast cancer.


Breast cancer is cancer that begins in the breast tissue. Metaplastic breast cancer – also known as metaplastic carcinoma of the breast – is a very rare type of breast cancer. This type of cancer makes up just 1 percent of all breast cancer cases. Similar to invasive ductal breast cancer, metaplastic breast cancer begins in the milk duct of the breast before spreading to the tissue around the duct.

Metaplastic breast cancer causes

Metaplastic cancer is caused by mutations (changes) to the cells' DNA of the breast's milk ducts.

Metaplastic breast cancer risk factors

The following factors may increase your risk for developing metastatic breast cancer:

  • Being Caucasian
  • Being over age 55
  • Having a personal or family history of breast cancer
  • Having been previously exposed to diethylstilbestrol (DES)
  • Having dense breast tissue
  • Having previously undergone radiation therapy to the chest
  • Having the BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene
  • Starting your menstrual cycle before age 12 or going through menopause after age 55

Metaplastic breast cancer symptoms

In some cases, metastatic breast cancer does not cause any symptoms. When they do occur, signs and symptoms may include:

  • A change in the shape or size of a breast
  • A lump in the breast or underarm area
  • A marble-like hardened area of skin on or around the breast
  • Change in shape or position of a nipple
  • Discharge from the nipple that is bloody or clear
  • Nipple retraction, meaning that it’s pushed in rather than sticking out
  • Red or scaly breast skin or nipple
  • Skin of the breast that is dimpled or puckered
  • Swelling in the breast

Metaplastic breast cancer diagnosis

Your oncologist may use one or more of the following tests to diagnose this condition:

  • Physical exam - your doctor will perform a complete physical exam, including asking questions about your health history, symptoms and related risk factors.
  • Computerized tomography (CT) scan - this type of imaging test provides a 3-D image of the inside of the body that your doctor can use to determine if there is any cancer present.
  • Biopsy - in this test, your doctor removes a biopsy (small tissue sample) from the suspicious area. This sample is sent to the laboratory, where a specialist closely checks the biopsy for abnormalities.
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) - this type of imaging test uses high-powered magnets to create detailed images of the inside of your body. Your doctor can closely examine these images to look for any areas that could indicate cancer.

Metaplastic breast cancer treatments

Oncologists treat metaplastic breast cancer similar to the treatment of more common breast cancers. Depending on your personal health history, the extent of your metaplastic breast cancer and other factors, your oncologist may recommend one or more of the following treatment options:

  • Surgery - in most cases, your doctor will recommend a surgical procedure to remove the cancerous area. Your surgeon will work to preserve as much surrounding healthy tissue as possible. In some cases, you may opt to undergo reconstructive surgery following surgery to treat breast cancer.
  • Chemotherapy - although not as commonly used as with other types of breast cancer, you may need to undergo chemotherapy to destroy any cancerous cells. During this treatment, medication is used to destroy cancerous cells. Chemotherapy can be taken via an oral (by mouth) pill or intravenously (through a vein).
  • Hormone therapy - if you have hormone receptor-positive breast cancer, your oncologist may recommend you undergo hormone therapy for the hormone estrogen and progesterone.
  • Radiation therapy - this treatment uses high-powered energy beams to destroy cancerous cells. You may need to undergo radiation therapy to destroy any cancerous cells.

When should I seek care?

If you experience any of these symptoms, start by voicing your concerns and symptoms to your primary care provider. From there, your doctor may suggest seeing an oncologist for more specialized treatment.

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