Lobular breast cancer is also known as invasive lobular carcinoma. It starts out in the breast lobules, which are the glands that produce milk. The cancer cells can move beyond the lobules and invade other organs and tissue in the body. According to the Mayo Clinic, lobular breast cancer is not as common as ductal carcinoma, which begins in the milk ducts.

Symptoms and Risk Factors

Unlike other, more common types of breast cancer that first appear as a lump, lobular breast cancer usually manifests as a thickening of breast. In other words, you may notice an unusual fullness in one part of the breast if you have lobular breast cancer.

Other symptoms of lobular breast cancer include:

  • skin changes around the affected area
  • skin that is dimpled or thicker than usual
  • an inverted nipple

Lobular breast cancer tends to develop at an older age than other types of breast cancer. Women on hormone replacement therapy (HRT) are more likely to develop lobular breast cancer, according to the Mayo Clinic. Hormones involved in replacement therapy may stimulate the growth of cancer cells. These tumors are often more difficult to see in mammograms.

A condition called lobular carcinoma in situ, which means the cancer cells are confined to the lobules, increases your risk of developing invasive lobular carcinoma.

Diagnosis and Treatment Options

Doctors use several different imaging tests to help diagnose lobular breast cancer. That’s because a routine mammogram may not always show the cancerous tumor, and an ultrasound may be inconclusive.

Your doctor may order an MRI if other screenings don’t provide a clear image of the suspicious tissue. A more definitive diagnosis can be made when fluid or tissue taken from the breast is lab tested.

Treating lobular breast cancer usually involves surgery. A lumpectomy may be the best surgical option if the cancer growth appears confined to a small portion of the breast. If more breast tissue is affected, then your doctor may recommend a mastectomy. Your best treatment option will also depend on your general health.

You may need additional treatment, such as radiation or chemotherapy. Hormone therapy may be in order if tests show that the cancer cells are especially sensitive to hormones.  

Outlook and Recurrence

Your prognosis depends largely on the stage of the disease and the type of treatment you receive. Diagnosing and treating the condition early leads to a better long-term outlook. In a study published in Cancer Research, the survival rate of stage 4 lobular breast cancer patients averaged 2.9 years. Stage 4 is the most advanced stage of any cancer.

Your age and the cancer cells’ response to hormones are also major factors affecting your survival odds.

A Journal of the National Cancer Institute study examined recurrence rates in patients who had undergone adjuvant therapy. The researchers found the recurrence rate for stage 1 cancer was 7 percent. For stage 2 cancer, the rate was 11 percent. For stage 3 cancer, the rate was 13 percent.

A separate 2012 study found that after successful treatment, lobular breast cancer patients lived about 10.6 years without cancer. If cancer does return, it often develops in the abdomen.

How Can I Prevent Lobular Breast Cancer?

Lobular carcinoma, like other breast cancers, can develop in otherwise healthy individuals. But, there are some things you can do to better your odds. Drink alcohol in moderation, if at all. That means one standard drink (12-fluid ounce beer, 5-fluid ounce glass of wine, 1.5 fluid ounce shot of hard alcohol) or less per day for women. Do self-exams and get annual checkups with your doctor.

Discuss the risks and benefits of HRT with your doctor. HRT may raise the risk of lobular carcinoma and other types of breast cancer.

Finding Support

Breast cancer of any type can be a frightening diagnosis. But advances in treatment are helping patients beat cancer and live longer, healthier lives. If you’re diagnosed with lobular breast caner, turn to your health care team and your friends and family for support.

Local support groups may be helpful in connecting with others going through similar experiences. The breast cancer community is a visible and vocal one, and there are plenty of helpful resources at your disposal.