Overview

Tubular carcinoma is a form of breast cancer. It’s a subtype of invasive ductal carcinoma (IDC). IDC is a cancer that begins inside the milk duct in the breast and then expands into other tissue. Tubular carcinomas get their name because the tumor is made up of tube-shaped structures that are visible under a microscope. The tumors are usually 1 cm or less in size, and they usually grow slowly.

Tubular carcinomas are not a common form of breast cancer. They account for approximately 1 to 5 percent of all IDCs of the breast. Tubular carcinoma is rare in men. The average age at diagnosis for women is approximately 50 years old.

Survival rates and recurrence

The survival rate for tubular carcinoma is approximately 97 percent at the 10-year mark. The survival rate is better for tubular carcinoma alone than when it’s mixed with other subtypes.

One study shows a recurrence rate of 6.9 percent. However, there may be a recurrence with a different type of IDC, particularly in the other breast. The rate of these recurrences is still being studied.

Symptoms

You may not have any symptoms since tubular carcinomas are usually found through routine mammograms. The tumors tend to be small which means they may not be felt during a breast exam.

If you do feel a lump, it will be small and feel hard. However, when viewed on a mammogram, a tubular carcinoma will have spiculated or uneven margins.

Causes

Some risk factors for tubular carcinoma may include:

  • genetics and family history
  • radiation to your face or chest to treat another type of cancer before the age of 30
  • being overweight
  • no full-term pregnancy or giving birth after 30 years of age
  • not breastfeeding
  • hormone replacement therapy
  • alcohol consumption
  • lack of exercise
  • unhealthy diet
  • chemicals in food or in the environment

Treatment options

There are several possible treatment options for tubular carcinoma. Your doctor can discuss the best options for you after performing various diagnostic tests to determine the specifics of your tubular carcinoma. The following are treatment options that you and your doctor may consider:

  • Surgery. This is usually the initial treatment for tubular carcinoma.
  • Lumpectomy. This surgery removes only the part of the breast containing the tumor and the surrounding tissue.
  • Mastectomy. This surgery removes the whole breast but not the lymph nodes (tubular carcinoma rarely spreads to the lymph nodes).
  • Lymph node removal. Your lymph nodes will be tested. If the cancer has spread, the lymph nodes will also be removed during the mastectomy.
  • Chemotherapy. This treatment uses anticancer medications taken by mouth or through a vein. Chemotherapy kills cancer cells that travel to other areas of your body. It’s not usually needed for tubular carcinoma since it doesn’t normally spread.
  • Radiation therapy. This treatment uses high-energy rays to target cancer cells that may remain after surgery.
  • Hormone therapy. This treatment uses medications that block or reduce the amount of estrogen. Hormone therapy does not work if diagnostic testing shows that your tumor is estrogen- and progesterone-receptor negative.
  • Biological or targeted therapy. This treatment uses medications that block the growth and spread of cancer by targeting and interfering with processes (or proteins) in the cancer cells.

Because the prognosis for tubular carcinoma is so good, there is usually only a need for minor additional treatments after surgery. However, this depends on the specifics of your tumor.

How is it diagnosed?

Since it’s rare to have symptoms of tubular carcinoma, it can be first detected during your annual mammogram. Once it’s discovered, your doctor will order additional tests to confirm the diagnosis. These additional tests provide more information about your tubular carcinoma and can help your doctor determine proper treatment. Some of the additional diagnostic tests may include:

  • ultrasound of the breast
  • MRI of the breast
  • physical exam
  • biopsy of the tumor

Because tubular carcinoma looks very similar to other types of breast cancer, your doctor will likely request more than one of these tests. A biopsy is the best way for your doctor to see inside the tumor and confirm the diagnosis. Multiple tests may also be needed to determine if your tubular carcinoma is “pure” or mixed with another subtype of the cancer. All this information is necessary for your doctor to decide the best treatment plan for you.

Diagnosing tubular carcinoma requires a lot of skill, so don’t be afraid to ask for additional testing or a second opinion if you’re given this diagnosis.

Outlook

Tubular carcinoma is often diagnosed in earlier stages now that women have regular mammograms. For this reason, it’s important that you have your mammogram done annually. The earlier tubular carcinoma is diagnosed, the better the prognosis. Even though it’s an invasive form of breast cancer, it’s less aggressive than others, responds well to treatment, and tends to not spread beyond the breast tissue. Your outlook is especially good after treatment if you have “pure” tubular carcinoma and it’s not mixed with other types of breast cancer.