Tubular carcinoma is an uncommon type of invasive breast cancer. These carcinomas are usually small and consist of tube-shaped structures. Tubular carcinoma generally has an excellent prognosis.

Tubular carcinomas are a type of invasive duct carcinoma (IDC). IDCs develop in the milk ducts and spread to other tissues.

IDC is the most common type of breast cancer, accounting for 8 in 10 cases of invasive breast cancer. Between 8% and 27% of people who receive a breast cancer diagnosis have tubular carcinoma.

Although people can develop tubular carcinoma at any age, doctors most often diagnose it in females in their early 50s. Tubular carcinomas are rare in males.

Continue reading this article for more information about tubular carcinoma, including its symptoms, causes, treatment, and survival rates.

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Around 8–27% of breast cancer diagnoses are tubular carcinoma.

Tubular carcinoma is a type of IDC that develops in the milk ducts of the breast. The tumors tend to be small, usually 1 centimeter or less in diameter.

Tubular carcinoma gets its name from the microscopic, tube-shaped structures that make up the tumors. Doctors will classify IDC as tubular carcinoma when more than 90% of the tumor sample has these tube-shaped structures.

Pure tubular carcinoma does not usually spread beyond the ducts and the tissue that immediately surrounds them. However, in up to 15% of cases, it can spread to the axillary lymph nodes, which are in the underarm area.

Mixed tubular carcinoma comprises a mix of tube-shaped structures and lobular carcinoma cells, making it more challenging to diagnose.

Tubular carcinoma may not cause symptoms at first. The tumors are small, so they are often difficult to detect during breast self-examinations.

Doctors typically discover tubular carcinomas during routine mammograms. Over time, the tumors can grow large enough for a person to feel them under the skin.

Other symptoms of tubular carcinoma include:

  • swelling in the breast
  • changes to the appearance of the breast skin, such as dimpling, redness, or scaling
  • dimpling or retraction of the nipple
  • unusual nipple discharge
  • lump under the arm or near the collarbone
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A family history of cancer may increase a person’s risk of developing tubular carcinoma.

The exact cause of tubular carcinoma remains unknown. However, several risk factors can increase a person’s risk of developing tubular carcinoma, including:

  • family history and genetics
  • receiving treatment for cancer, such as radiation or chemotherapy
  • having hormone replacement therapy
  • lack of regular exercise
  • being overweight or having obesity
  • excessive alcohol consumption
  • not having had a full-term pregnancy by 30 years of age
  • not breastfeeding

Numerous treatment options are available for people who have tubular carcinoma. A person can discuss these options with their doctor. The best treatment option will depend on the diagnostic test results and the individual’s preferences.

Treatment options for tubular carcinoma include the following:

  • A lumpectomy is a surgical procedure in which a surgeon removes the portion of the breast that contains the tumor and any affected lymph nodes.
  • A mastectomy is a surgical procedure that involves a surgeon removing the entire breast as well as nearby lymph nodes and any affected axillary lymph nodes.
  • Radiation therapy is a form of treatment that uses radiation beams to destroy any cancer cells that remain after surgery.
  • Hormone therapy is only effective in cancers that test positive for hormone receptors. It uses medications that block the effects of hormones, such as estrogen and progesterone, to prevent the growth of breast cancer cells. Most tubular carcinomas — approximately 70–100% — test positive for estrogen receptors, while 60–83% test positive for progesterone receptors.
  • Chemotherapy for tubular carcinoma uses medications in the form of tablets or injections. These medications affect the entire body, so this treatment works well for cancers that have spread, or metastasized.
  • Targeted therapy involves medications that target the proteins in cancer cells. This type of treatment only affects cancer cells, which can make it preferable to systemic treatments.
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Attending regular mammograms can increase the chance of early diagnosis.

The authors of a 2013 study say that the prognosis for tubular carcinomas is generally excellent compared with that of standard IDCs.

Cancer survival rates give a general idea of the likely outlook for a person with a specific type of cancer, based on the experiences of other people with the same disease. However, it is important to note that different people’s cancer will not necessarily behave the same way.

Attending regular mammograms can lead to early diagnosis, which, in turn, usually makes early treatment possible. In its early stages, tubular carcinoma is far less aggressive, much less likely to spread beyond the breast tissue, and more likely to respond well to treatment.

Several factors can affect a person’s outlook, such as:

  • cancer type and stage
  • tumor size
  • lymph node status
  • hormone receptor status
  • age
  • overall health status
  • the presence of other medical conditions

Breast cancer is the most common cancer among women, accounting for nearly 27% of all cancers in females in Western countries.

Tubular carcinoma refers to a specific subtype of IDC, and it gets its name from the tube-shaped structures inside the tumors.

In general, people with tubular carcinoma have an excellent outlook compared with those with other types of IDC. Early diagnosis and treatment can improve a person’s chances of achieving remission, so it is important that people attend regular breast cancer screenings.