What is a phyllodes tumour?
Phyllodes tumours are rare and are usually benign (not cancer). However, some phyllodes tumours are malignant (cancer). They are grouped into three types:
- benign (not cancer)
- borderline (with features that are between benign and malignant)
- malignant (cancer)
This information is for people with a benign phyllodes tumour. Read our information on borderline and malignant phyllodes tumours »
Phyllodes tumours are smooth, firm lumps in the breast. Occasionally, a phyllodes tumour grows fairly quickly and can be quite large (often between 40–50mm). Sometimes the skin over the area can be red (inflamed).
Although phyllodes tumours can affect a woman at any age, they’re most common between 40 and 50 in those who haven’t been through the menopause. It’s unlikely that more than one tumour will develop at a time, though it’s possible.
Phyllodes tumours can develop in men although this is extremely rare.
How is a phyllodes tumour diagnosed?
A phyllodes tumour usually becomes noticeable as a lump in the breast. Once you have been seen by your GP, you’ll be referred to a breast clinic, where you’ll be examined by a doctor or specialist nurse.
Some women will be diagnosed with a phyllodes tumour after attending routine breast screening without having found a lump.
Phyllodes tumours are diagnosed using a range of tests. These may include:
- a mammogram (breast x-ray)
- an ultrasound scan (uses sound waves to produce an image)
- a core biopsy (using a hollow needle to take a sample of breast tissue to be looked at under a microscope – several tissue samples may be taken at the same time)
Sometimes, a fine needle aspiration (FNA) may be done, but this is not commonly used to diagnose phyllodes tumours. An FNA uses a fine needle and syringe to take a sample of cells to be looked at under a microscope.
Sometimes your specialist may also recommend a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan. This uses magnetism and radio waves to produce a series of images of the inside of the breast. An MRI doesn’t expose the body to x-ray radiation.
Benign phyllodes tumours are often difficult to diagnose because they can be confused with other benign breast conditions, such as a fibroadenoma.
If after having tests your specialist team cannot be sure of the diagnosis, you may need to have an operation to remove the lump. This is so that the whole area can be examined to get a definite diagnosis.
How is a phyllodes tumour treated?
Phyllodes tumours are always treated with surgery. Your specialist will talk to you about 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 tumour is removed, as this reduces the risk of it coming back in the future. If a clear margin is not achieved by the initial surgery then further surgery is usually recommended.
Occasionally the size of the tumour (in relation to the size of your breast) may mean that mastectomy (removal of all the breast tissue) is recommended. In this case you will usually be given the option of having breast reconstruction at the same time.
Benign phyllodes tumours can sometimes come back, so your specialist may want you to have follow-up appointments. Very rarely, benign phyllodes tumours can develop into a borderline or malignant phyllodes tumour.
If your tumour does come back, you’ll need to have further surgery. Your specialist will advise you what operation will be best if this happens.
You may be anxious about being diagnosed with a benign phyllodes tumour. Even though you might feel relieved that it’s a benign condition, you may worry about it coming back. It’s important to be breast aware and go back to your GP if you notice any changes in your breasts, regardless of how soon these occur after your diagnosis of a benign phyllodes tumour.
If have any questions about benign phyllodes tumours or just want to talk things through, you can call Breast Cancer Care’s free Helpline on 0808 800 6000 and speak with one of our team.