Skip to main content

Occult breast carcinoma presenting with axillary lymphadenopathy

Introduction

Occult breast carcinoma presenting with axillary lymphadenopathy is an uncommon but difficult clinical problem. The most appropriate diagnostic pathway, the prognosis and the best form of treatment may be uncertain. To answer these questions, we have examined the outcomes of women presenting in this way over a number of years.

Methods

Thirteen women were identified prospectively over a 12-year period, presenting with suspicious lymphadenopathy but no identifiable breast tumour on initial mammography or ultrasound. Biopsy of the abnormal nodes was consistent with a breast primary in all cases. All women had further imaging with breast MRI (11 cases), breast scintigraphy (one case) and CT scanning of the chest and abdomen. Second-look ultrasound was targeted to suspicious areas identified on second-line imaging. The type of treatment, presence of distant metastases and survival were recorded.

Results

Further imaging revealed a primary breast lesion in seven cases, six remained truly occult. Follow-up ranged from 3 to 144 months (mean 38 months). Three patients died, one is alive with distant metastases and nine remain disease free. Those with no identifiable primary were treated with chemotherapy usually in combination with radiotherapy.

Conclusion

The use of MRI and targeted ultrasound-guided biopsy revealed primary tumours in approximately half our cases presenting with lymphadenopathy and negative conventional imaging. Chemotherapy with radiotherapy appears to be an effective treatment for occult breast cancer. The initial staging tests are crucial and if clear the prognosis appears similar to patients with breast cancer and positive axillary nodes.

Author information

Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to MA Crotch-Harvey.

Rights and permissions

This article is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, which permits use, sharing, adaptation, distribution and reproduction in any medium or format, as long as you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons licence, and indicate if changes were made. The images or other third party material in this article are included in the article's Creative Commons licence, unless indicated otherwise in a credit line to the material. If material is not included in the article's Creative Commons licence and your intended use is not permitted by statutory regulation or exceeds the permitted use, you will need to obtain permission directly from the copyright holder. To view a copy of this licence, visit http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/. The Creative Commons Public Domain Dedication waiver (http://creativecommons.org/publicdomain/zero/1.0/) applies to the data made available in this article, unless otherwise stated in a credit line to the data.

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Crotch-Harvey, M. Occult breast carcinoma presenting with axillary lymphadenopathy. Breast Cancer Res 13, P40 (2011). https://doi.org/10.1186/bcr2992

Download citation

Keywords

  • Breast Cancer
  • Positive Axillary Node
  • Diagnostic Pathway
  • Axillary Lymphadenopathy
  • Abnormal Node