Papillary Carcinoma

What is papillary carcinoma?

Many different types of breast cancer start in the cells of your milk ducts. Sometimes, as your ductal cells naturally grow and divide, they make copies of themselves with errors. These bad copies can grow out of control, forming tumors.

Papillary carcinoma is a very rare form of invasive ductal carcinoma. It is called papillary carcinoma because under a microscope, the tumor is strangely shaped and has small bumps or protrusions (called papillae) all around it. Men with breast cancer may be more likely to have papillary carcinoma than women with breast cancer.

Though it is rare, papillary carcinoma responds well to common breast cancer treatments. In fact, women with papillary carcinoma often have a better treatment outlook than women with other types of invasive ductal carcinoma. While some breast cancers get into lymph nodes and spread to other parts of the body, papillary carcinoma is more likely to just remain in your breast and not spread. This makes it easier to treat.

Symptoms of papillary carcinoma

As with other breast cancers, you may notice a lump or change in your breast tissue if you have papillary carcinoma. You may also experience strange discharge from your nipples. If you experience these symptoms, you should talk to your doctor.


The first step in treating your papillary carcinoma is surgery to remove all tumors. Your doctor might remove just the tumors (lumpectomy) or your entire breast (mastectomy). You can work with your doctor to find out which option is best for you and discuss any plans for breast reconstruction surgery.

You will have a few weeks to recover from surgery before starting radiation therapy. Radiation therapy uses high-energy X-ray beams to target and destroy cancer cells, while leaving healthy cells unharmed. Not all patients may need radiation therapy.

Following radiation therapy, you might have chemotherapy, depending on specific case and stage of papillary carcinoma. Chemotherapy uses medicines that you take as pills or through an IV to kill cancer cells anywhere in your body.

Papillary carcinoma uses estrogen to help tumors grow. To help keep cancer from coming back, your doctor may have you take hormone therapy for five to ten years after you're finished with cancer treatment. Hormone therapy prevents the cells in your breasts from taking in estrogen and prevents your body from making estrogen. Without estrogen, it is less likely that breast cancer cells will grow.

Breast Reconstruction

Breast cancer reconstruction or breast reconstruction surgery is often done in conjunction with a mastectomy or lumpectomy so that you have only one surgery and recovery vs. multiple surgeries.

Breast Cancer Therapies

Depending on the extent and nature your cancer diagnosis, medical treatments may be recommended by themselves or in conjunction with surgery or radiation therapy. Various forms of treatment medications may be used in combination or in sequence, to target and eradicate the different types of cancer cells while sparing normal tissue.

Breast Cancer Surgery

Breast cancer is often treated with surgery, either alone or in combination with other treatment. Our goal for surgery is to remove all cancerous cells while leaving as much breast tissue and skin as possible. Our experienced breast cancer surgeons are skilled in the latest minimally invasive techniques, including sentinel node biopsies and skin- and nipple-sparing mastectomies.

Radiation Therapy for Breast Cancer

Many breast cancer patients receive radiation therapy, a type of cancer treatment that uses high-energy particles and beams to destroy cancer cells. You may have radiation therapy in conjunction with other treatments such as surgery or chemotherapy. At Main Line Health, our expert radiation oncologists use the latest technology to give you powerful, precise treatment while sparing healthy tissue.


Chemotherapy is used to fight almost every type of cancer and is part of the comprehensive treatment plan created by our oncologists.


Endocrinology and Metabolism

When hormones are out of balance, you can experience a wide range of problems. Main Line Health endocrinologists can help assess your needs and provide care for any endocrinology and metabolism conditions.

Cancer Care

From diagnosis and throughout treatment, Main Line Health cancer specialists (oncologists) provide compassionate care for you and your loved ones through all stages of cancer treatment.