Papillary Breast Cancer

Papillary carcinoma is a very uncommon from of infiltrating ductal breast cancer. Papillary literally means ‘nipple-like‘, and this cancer is characterized by a well-defined margin and many small projections, which look like little fingers or nipples, or like the bumpy surface of taste-buds on the tongue.

This is my old page on papillary cancer. It’s still valid, but my new page with up-to-date references on all the types of papillary breast carcinoma is here.

Papillary breast cancer is commonly discovered as a palpable lesion or a nodule on mammogram, or as a complex cyst with solid elements, of about 2-3 cm in diameter, containing a brownish mixture of neoplastic tissue and blood clot.

Dr. Halls Dr. Halls
Actually, I’ve never heard of a papillary breast cancer being as big as 3 centimeters. That must be very old information.


About 1/2 of all cases occur beneath the nipple, resulting in a bloody nipple discharge. Sometimes it is called ‘intracystic‘ papillary carcinoma, which simply means the tumor is found ‘inside‘ a cyst, or a dilated duct segment, and is therefore somewhat more fluid and ‘cyst-like‘ than a solid mass.

Dr. Halls Dr. Halls
Bloody discharge, doesn’t mean cancer however.



Dr. Halls Dr. Halls
Inside that very dilated duct, see all the slender fingers of papillary cancer cells.


There is a heterogeneous collection of breast cancers that have cyst-like presentations. In cancers such as papillary carcinoma, the tumor presents more or less as a cyst, while in other types of breast cancer it presents as a mass and ‘decays‘ into a cyst. This latter ‘ductal carcinoma with cystic degeneration‘ tends to be associated with a more serious, aggressive breast cancer.

Statistical prevalence of papillary carcinoma

Papillary breast cancer is diagnosed in 1% to 2% of all patients. Occasionally the disease is found in men as well. Papillary carcinoma most frequently occurs in older, post-menopausal women, and commonly presents as a moderate or ‘grade 2‘ tumor in terms of perceived aggressiveness.

Invasive papillary carcinoma usually occurs following the development of papillary ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS).

If the cancer is ‘just beginning‘ to affect the ducts it might be called ‘infiltrating‘ papillary carcinoma, and if it is clearly in the ducts and moving beyond it would be termed ‘invasive‘ papillary carcinoma. Mammography and ultrasound can usually identify papillary carcinoma, but a fine-needle aspiration biopsy may not be sufficient to distinguish between in situ, infiltrating, and invasive forms. This is due to the fluid nature of the carcinoma, and because the invasion tends to occur at the edge of the tumor. Because of this, a surgical excision of the mass is often undertaken.

Prognosis and treatments

Papillary carcinoma is a slow-growing form of breast cancer, and 10 year survival rates have been reported between 85% to 100%, with 10 year ‘disease-free‘ rate of just under 75%. Non-invasive papillary carcinoma has a similar prognosis to most other ductal carcinomas.

However, the invasive presentation of papillary carcinoma is thought to have a better prognosis than other invasive ductal carcinomas. Negative axillary lymph node involvement significantly improves 5 year survival rate.

Tumor size and cancer grade also play a role, but there is no statistically significant difference is this regard between papillary and other ductal breast carcinomas. The outlook for papillary breast cancer is also more positive for younger women (under 50).

Segmental mastectomy is the most common treatment for papillary breast carcinoma

As for treatment and follow-up options, segmental mastectomy is the most frequent course of action. Less commonly, patients undertake hormonal and radiation therapies. Axillary sampling at regular intervals is usually performed for women at higher risk or where invasion is felt to be likely.

Ignore that last sentence about repeating axilla surgeries. It’s old info and nobody does that nowadays. In fact, ask questions to an oncologist, about anything concerning treatment.

Let’s go over a few Q&A:

  • What are the papillary breast cancer symptoms? Like other breast cancers, this type of cancer may also not have any symptoms, a routine mammogram may detect it’s development. For those who do experience symptoms, they may include mass, nipple discharge, itchy breasts, change in breast color, flaking, breast thickening, or redness.
  • What are the risk factors for papillary breast carcinoma? Gender – although papillary breast cancer is occasionally found in men, the disease is a lot more common in women. Age – it is usually diagnosed in women between the ages of 62 and 67. Race – darker-skin women are more likely to get papillary breast cancer than white women. And menopause – this type of breast cancer is more common among postmenopausal women.
  • What is the difference between papillary breast cancer and other types of breast cancer? The difference is that the cancer cells are arranged in finger-like projections, or papules. Under a microscope, the cells appear fern-like. Sometimes, the cancer cells are very small in size, in which case the cancer may be called micropapillary.
  • What treats papillary breast carcinoma? Treatment options would be surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, hormonal therapy and/or therapy that targets the HER2 protein.


  1. Rosen PP, Oberman H. Tumors of the Mammary Gland.Washington, AFIP, 1993, pp. 209-218.
  2. Dogan BE, Whitman GJ, Middleton LP, Phelps M. Intracystic papillary carcinoma of the breast. Am J Roentgenol 2003;181:186
  3. Devitt JE, Barr JR. The clinical recognition of cystic carcinoma of the breast. Surg Gynecol Obstet 1984;159:130-2
  4. Liberman L, Feng TL, Susnik B. Case 35: Intracystic papillary carcinoma with invasion. Radiology 2001;219:781-4
  5. E. Ergul, B. Korukluoglu, A. Celik & A. Kusdemir : Invasive Papillary Carcinoma of the Breast Presenting as Post-Traumatic Hemorrhagic Cyst. The Internet Journal of Surgery. 2007 Volume 11 Number 1
  6. Lefkowits M, Lefkowits W, Wargots ES. Intraductal (intracystic) papillary carcinoma of the breast and its variants: a clinicopathological study of 77 cases. Hum Pathol1994; 25:802 —809
  7. Park, S., Kim, J.H., Kim, S., Park, BW, Lee, KS. Clinicopathological Characteristics and Prognostic Factors of Papillary Carcinoma of the Breast. Journal of Breast Cancer Research.. 2008 Jun;11(2):77-82.

Return to list of other types of breast cancer, or back to the homepage.

Reading topics, like this, information with moments to reflect, shows you can share in the simplest ways, this middle part of your story and friends will respond with love.


Did you click on any pictures to hear music, or find other surprises?.


End of page Navigation links: See also: Types.  or  Back to top