by Jason Wasserman MD PhD FRCPC
April 28, 2023
Atypical lobular hyperplasia (ALH) is a growth made up of abnormal cells in the breast. The abnormal cells are found inside groups of small glands called lobules. ALH is a noncancerous condition, however, it is associated with a small increased risk of developing breast cancer over time.
No. ALH is not a type of breast cancer. However, ALH is associated with an increased risk of developing breast cancer over time.
ALH is not considered a precancerous condition because only a small number of patients who have ALH will go on to develop breast cancer over time.
At the present time, doctors do not know what causes ALH.
On its own ALH does not cause any symptoms and the condition is normally discovered incidentally when tissue from the breast is examined under the microscope for other reasons.
The diagnosis of ALH can only be made after tissue from the breast is examined under the microscope by a pathologist. The tissue may be a biopsy or a larger surgical procedure such as a lumpectomy or resection.
When examined under the microscope, ALH is made up of abnormal cells that fill small glands within groups called lobules. The cells may be described as monomorphic which means they are all very similar looking. The cells may also be described as discohesive which means they are not sticking together like normal epithelial cells. Mitotic figures (cells dividing to create new cells) may also be seen.
E-cadherin is a protein made by most types of epithelial cells including the cells normally found in the breast. This protein is normally found on the membrane or surface of the cell. Instructions for making the e-cadherin protein come from a gene called CDH1. The function of e-cadherin is to help neighboring epithelial cells stick together.
Before making the diagnosis of ALH, your pathologist may perform a test called immunohistochemistry (IHC). This test allows the pathologist to see if the abnormal cells are producing e-cadherin. Cells that produce e-cadherin are called positive while those that are not producing e-cadherin are called negative. In most cases of ALH, the CDH1 gene has become altered which results in a loss of e-cadherin production.