Benign phyllodes tumour

What is a phyllodes tumour?

A phyllodes tumour is a hard lump of tissue that can appear in the supportive tissue (stroma) of the breast. It is a benign breast condition thought to develop naturally as the breast ages and changes.

Once formed a phyllodes tumour may grow quite quickly and quite large. Sometimes this can cause the skin over the area to look red (inflamed).

Although they can affect a woman at any time in her life, phyllodes tumours are most common in women between 40 and 50 who haven’t yet been through the menopause. It’s unlikely that more than one will develop at a time, though it is possible.

Phyllodes tumours are not common and are usually benign (not cancer). However, they can sometimes be malignant (cancer). They are grouped into three types:

  • benign
  • borderline malignant
  • malignant.

A benign phyllodes tumour can come back after it has been removed, although this is unusual. In very rare cases it may become borderline malignant or malignant.

How is it diagnosed?

A phyllodes tumour usually becomes noticeable as a quick-growing lump in the breast. Your GP is likely to refer you to a breast clinic where you’ll be given a consultation with a doctor or specialist nurse. This involves looking at and feeling the breast tissue of both breasts when you are sitting and lying down. 

You may then have further tests. These will include one or more of the following:

Sometimes your doctor may also recommend you have a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan which uses magnetism and radio waves to produce a series of cross-sectional images of the inside of the breast.

Read more about these tests.

Benign phyllodes tumours can be difficult to diagnose because they can be confused with other breast problems, such as a fibroadenoma.

Treatment

Phyllodes tumours are always treated with surgery. Your specialist will discuss with you the type of surgery you need.

The aim of the surgery is to remove the entire tumour with a margin (border) of normal breast tissue around it. It’s important to have a clear margin of healthy tissue when the lump is removed, as this reduces the risk of the tumour coming back. If a clear margin is not achieved by the initial surgery further surgery is usually recommended.

The size of the tumour may sometimes mean that mastectomy is recommended. If this is the case you will usually be offered breast reconstruction at the same time.

What this means for you

You may feel anxious about having a benign phyllodes tumour. Even though you may feel relieved that it’s a benign condition, you may still worry about it coming back. This is rare, but it’s important to go to any follow-up appointments you’re offered.

It’s also important to continue to be breast aware and go back to your GP if you notice any other changes.

Last reviewed: March 2015
Next planned review begins 2018

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