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Sidney Kimmel Cancer Center / Centers & Clinics

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Apocrine Breast Cancer

Apocrine Breast Cancer Diagnosis

Apocrine breast cancer is a rare type of invasive ductal breast cancer.  Like other types of invasive ductal cancer, apocrine breast cancer begins in the milk duct of the breast before spreading to the tissues around the duct.  The cells that make up an apocrine tumor are different than those of typical ductal cancers.

When the cells of an apocrine tumor are examined under the microscope, they look like cells normally found in the sweat glands in the underarm and groin region.  It is thought that the normal ductal breast cells have undergone a change in form, called metaplasia, to become more like apocrine cells, though it is not known exactly how or why this occurs. 

Apocrine tumors are often “triple negative”, meaning that the cells do not express the estrogen receptor, progesterone receptor, or HER2 receptor.  Apocrine tumor cells are almost always positive for an additional receptor called the androgen receptor.  Apocrine tumors, even when triple negative, are less likely to involve the lymph nodes, are more responsive to treatment, and may have a better prognosis than more common types of invasive ductal cancer.

Apocrine Breast Cancer Staging and Treatment

Local therapy for apocrine breast cancer is aimed at preventing the cancer from coming back in the breast. Local therapy includes surgery (lumpectomy or mastectomy), and may include radiation. 

Systemic therapy is used to prevent the disease from coming back or spreading to another part of the body.  This may include endocrine (hormone) therapy, chemotherapy, and therapy that targets the HER2 protein.  Often different types of treatment are used together to achieve the best result.

Your treatment plan will be based on the features of the tumor (type of cells, tumor grade, hormone receptor status, and HER2 status) and the stage of the disease (tumor size and node status). Your oncology team will recommend a treatment plan based on what is known about apocrine breast cancer in general and tailored to your specific disease.

We know that it can be stressful to receive a diagnosis of breast cancer, and learning that you have a rare form of the disease can add to your anxiety.  We hope it will be reassuring to know that our Specialty Breast Cancer Clinic team is dedicated to latest research and treatment of apocrine breast cancer, and is here to support patients and their families through diagnosis, treatment, and survivorship.