Angiosarcomas of the breast are a type of soft tissue sarcoma.
What is breast angiosarcoma?
Breast angiosarcomas are cancers that start in the cells that make up the walls of blood vessels or lymphatic vessels. They are very rare and make up less than 1 in 100 breast cancers (less than 1 %).
It is mostly seen in women, but men can also get this type of breast cancer.
They are divided into:
- primary angiosarcoma
- secondary angiosarcoma
Primary angiosarcoma of the breast starts in the breast tissue and may involve the skin of the breast. They tend to develop in younger women in their 30s or 40s.
Most secondary angiosarcomas of the breast occur due to having radiotherapy to the breast for a previous breast cancer. These cancers usually develop in older women.
Angiosarcomas tend to grow quickly and are generally difficult to treat.
Symptoms of breast angiosarcoma
The symptoms are similar to other types of breast cancer, including:
- a lump or thickening in an area of the breast
- a change in the size or shape of a breast
- dimpling of the skin
- a change in the shape of the nipple, particularly if it turns in, sinks into the breast, or has an irregular shape
- a rash or bruising on the breast or nipple
- a swelling or lump in the armpit
Angiosarcomas may also cause changes in the skin colour in the breast.
Diagnosing breast angiosarcoma
In some women the cancer is found during breast screening.
If you have symptoms and see your GP they refer you to a specialist breast clinic. At the breast clinic the doctor or breast care nurse takes your medical history and examines your breasts. They also feel for any swollen (enlarged) lymph nodes under your arms and at the base of your neck.
You have some of the following tests:
- a mammogram (an x-ray of the breasts)
- an ultrasound (you are more likely to have this instead of a mammogram if you are under 35)
- a biopsy, your doctor or nurse take a small sample of cells or tissue from your breast to look at under a microscope
- an MRI scan
Treatment for breast angiosarcoma
Because breast angiosarcomas are so rare, there is no established standard treatment.
Removal of the breast (mastectomy) is usually recommended. You may also have a sentinel lymph node biopsy. This depends on whether there are abnormal lymph nodes in the armpit (axilla).
You might have chemotherapy or targeted drugs. The choice of chemotherapy drugs might be different from those usually used to treat other types of breast cancer.
Radiotherapy might not be an option if you have had radiotherapy for breast cancer in the past.
Coping with a rare type of breast cancer
Coping with a diagnosis of cancer can be difficult, both practically and emotionally. It can be especially difficult if you have a rare cancer. Being well informed about your cancer and its treatment can make it easier to make decisions and cope with what happens.
Talking to other people who have the same thing can help. But it can be hard to find people who have had a rare type of cancer.
Cancer Chat is Cancer Research UK’s discussion forum. It is a place for anyone affected by cancer. You can share experiences, stories and information with other people who know what you are going through.
Help and support
Find more information and support from the following:
Cancer Research UK nurses
Trials and research
There may be fewer clinical trials for rare types of cancer than for more common types. It is hard to organise and run trials for rare cancers. Getting enough patients is critical to the success of a trial. The results won't be powerful enough to prove that one type of treatment is better than another if the trial is too small.
The International Rare Cancers Initiative (IRCI) aims to develop more research into new treatments for rare cancers. They are designing trials that involve several countries so that more people will be available to enter trials.