Papillary breast cancer is a rare type of cancer that typically affects people who have been through menopause. With the right care, most people can expect to recover from this form of breast cancer.

Papillary tumors are recognizable by their unique appearance. These long, thin tumors look similar to finger-shaped growths. Papillary breast cancer is a rare form of breast cancer characterized by papillary tumors in the breasts.

Papillary breast cancer cases make up only 0.5 to 1% of all breast cancer cases. This form of cancer has an excellent outlook, as most people respond fully to treatment.

This article will explore papillary breast cancer, from early symptoms to diagnosis and treatment.

A note about sex and gender

Sex and gender exist on spectrums. This article will use the terms “male,” “female,” or both to refer to sex assigned at birth. Click here to learn more.

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There are several types of papillary growths that appear in breast tissue. Noncancerous or benign growths are also known as papillomas.

In certain cases, cells with damaged genetic material begin to grow uncontrollably in the body. These damaged cells may form cancerous tumors.

Papillary breast cancer generally falls into two categories. The in-situ category includes early cancers that have not spread to the rest of the breast tissue. The invasive category of papillary breast cancer involves the spread of cancerous cells to the rest of the breast tissue and potentially beyond.

Most people diagnosed with papillary breast cancer will make a full recovery. The likelihood of recovery increases with early diagnosis and rapid treatment.

For example, one study followed the outcomes of 44 people diagnosed with papillary cancer. The results show none of the group had died from papillary cancer up to 5 years after surgery.

The symptoms of papillary breast cancer are similar to those associated with other forms of breast cancer.

People with papillary breast cancer may feel a noticeable mass within their breast tissue. They may also experience bloody discharge from their nipples.

A retrospective study on 158 people with confirmed papillomas found that having bloody discharge from the nipples and being ages 50 years or over were significant indicators of high risk or malignant tumors.

Other symptoms may include:

The symptoms of breast cancer are different for every person. Paying attention to any changes in the body is essential for early diagnosis.

The American Cancer Society recommends regular screening for breast cancer. Annual mammograms and other tests can help catch cancer in the early stages.

A person can speak with their doctor to learn more about what screening tests are available.

Further research is needed to identify the sole cause of papillary breast cancer. Although the exact cause of this form of cancer is unknown, scientists have identified several known risk factors.

Here are some of the most common risk factors for papillary breast cancer, according to a review of research from 2016.


Females are far more likely than males to experience papillary breast cancer. Less than 1% of all cases of papillary breast cancer are in males.

Family and age

People who have multiple close relatives with breast cancer are at higher risk. Additionally, the risk of papillary breast cancer increases with age. Many people who develop this form of cancer are age 60 years or older.

Lifestyle factors

People with obesity are at a greater risk of developing cancer. This risk increases with difficulty eating a nutritious diet and lack of exercise. Excessive alcohol consumption can also increase the chance of developing cancer.

People with certain genetic mutations may be at risk of developing breast cancer. Certain genetic markers are seen more commonly in papillary tumors.

Anyone at high risk of developing papillary breast cancer should consult with a doctor. They can recommend the right steps for prevention and early detection.

In some cases, a mass in the breast is large enough to be noticeable. People can contact a doctor to evaluate this mass and determine whether it is cancerous.

Doctors will conduct a physical examination and may order a mammogram. This test involves taking X-ray images of the breast. A doctor may then carry out ultrasound tests to look at the mass.

If a mass looks cancerous, a medical professional will perform a biopsy. This involves removing tissue for testing and analysis.

In cases of suspected breast cancer, a healthcare professional may insert a needle into the breast tissue and remove a small sample of the mass. They will then examine this sample under a microscope and may perform genetic testing on the sample.


Some people may feel scared or overwhelmed on receiving a diagnosis of a breast tumor. However, not all masses inside the breast tissue are cause for concern. For example, intraductal papillomas can be mistaken for cancerous tumors.

An intraductal papilloma is a noncancerous tumor that grows inside the breast’s milk ducts. These tumors may cause symptoms, such as nipple discharge, which mimic the symptoms of breast cancer.

Some individuals may have a larger papilloma tumor, and some may have multiple small papilloma tumors throughout the breast.

Anyone who notices abnormal growth in or around their breast tissue should visit a doctor. Only a healthcare professional can accurately examine and diagnose papilloma tumors and papillary breast cancer.

One of the most common treatments for papillary breast cancer is surgery. Doctors may recommend a minor surgery that preserves the breast, known as a lumpectomy.

However, doctors may recommend a mastectomy, which involves removing all breast tissue.

The type of surgery depends on the severity of the case. In small tumors that have not spread, minor surgery may be sufficient for treatment.

Other treatments offered in addition to surgery may include:

In some breast cancer cases, cancer uses estrogen to support tumor growth. Hormone therapies can target estrogen receptors to block cancer cells from accessing this hormone.

The most important thing for papillary breast cancer treatment is to start early. Early detection and diagnosis maximize the chance of successful treatment.

Some people may feel scared or overwhelmed on receiving a diagnosis of papillary breast cancer. However, this form of cancer has good survival and recovery rates.

The 5-year survival rate for breast cancer depends on whether the cancer is diagnosed at the in-situ stage or is invasive.

According to the National Cancer Institute, the 5-year survival rate for breast cancer is:

  • 99% for localized cases (where the cancer only exists in the primary site)
  • 85.8% for regional cases (where cancer has spread to regional lymph nodes)
  • 29.9% for distant cases (where cancer has metastasized to another part of the body)

These statistics come from data on females diagnosed with breast cancer between 2011–2017.

It is important to note that 5-year survival rates are estimates based on the outcomes of people with the same cancer type. They cannot predict what will happen with a person’s individual case.

Papillary breast cancer is a rare form of cancer that mainly affects people in their later years of life. Genetic traits and lifestyle factors can put individuals at greater risk of developing cancer.

However, most people diagnosed with papillary breast cancer do recover. Getting the right treatment as soon as possible is the best way to support breast cancer recovery.

With consistent checkups and regular screenings, doctors can catch many cases of papillary breast cancer and treat them early in their development.