Sometimes breast cancer tends to surprise us and present in an unusual manner. In India, due to lack to awareness and a stigma attached with breast cancer, females from the rural set-up tend to present with locally advanced breast cancers. I happened to encounter one such case couple of years back and managing this case turned out to be quite challenging. We managed to publish this case in the Breast Disease Journal and it generated quite a discussion in all the forums where it was discussed. [Breast cancer presenting in the midline without a lesion in the breast: a therapeutic dilemma. Khandelwal R, Poovamma CU, Shilpy C, et al. Breast Dis. 2013 Jan 1;34(2):57-9.]
A 48- year- old post-menopausal lady presented to the Breast Clinic with complaints of a rapidly enlarging chest swelling for the last 8 months. The lesion had ulcerated one month back and she complained of a foul smelling discharge from the growth. There were no complaints of any lumps in the breast or axillae.
On examination, a 14 x 10 cms ulcero-proliferative lesion was seen over the midline of the chest extending 4 cms on either side of the midline. The lump had restricted mobility over the underlying chest wall. In addition, the patient had multiple, enlarged lymph nodes in both the axillae. No enlarged lymph nodes were felt in the supraclavicular fossa. No organomegaly was palpable in the abdomen.
Lesion over anterior chest wall
A provisional diagnosis of soft tissue sarcoma of the chest wall was made but the presence of bilateral, hard axillary lymph nodes raised a suspicion of a breast carcinoma. Patient was then subjected to a CECT of the chest, which revealed a fungating soft tissue mass over the chest with bilateral axillary lymphadenopathy. MRI of the breasts failed to pick up any lesions in the breast. CT abdomen was unremarkable. A PET-CT done to look for distant metastasis, revealed a mildly hyper-metabolic anterior chest wall mass [SUV max 4.8] with bilateral axillary lymphadenopathy [SUV max 5.1]. There was no evidence of involvement of supraclavicular or internal mammary lymph nodes. No distal metastasis was observed on PET.
Following the imaging tests, an incisional biopsy of the lesion was performed, which to our surprise revealed an invasive ductal carcinoma (grade II) with DCIS. Immunohistochemistry revealed the tumor to be ER and PR positive but HER2 negative.
The case was extensively discussed in the tumor board and a decision was taken to treat the patient with neo-adjuvant chemotherapy. Patient received weekly Paclitaxel for six weeks, which was associated with a good response and the tumor regressed in size. A PET scan done following NACT revealed a residual lesion in the midline with bilateral axillary lymph nodes. PET scan did not reveal any lesions in the breast.
Following a good response to NACT, the patient was taken up for a wide local excision of the tumor with bilateral axillary dissection. As none of the breasts had any lesions, they were not addressed during the surgical procedure. Patient had an uneventful post-operative period and three weeks later she was started on adjuvant chemotherapy, which was followed by radiotherapy to the chest wall.
Following completion of radiotherapy, the patient was started on Letrozole and was kept under regular follow-up. The patient remained symptom free for 1 year after surgery, after which she was lost to follow-up.
This was an extremely rare presentation of breast cancer and managing this patient was a therapeutic dilemma.