Papillary lesion of the breast

by Adnan Karavelic MD FRCPC
November 20, 2023


Papillary lesion of the breast is a term pathologists use to describe a group of breast tumours that look similar when examined under the microscope. This group includes both non-cancerous tumours and cancers. Papillary lesion is a preliminary diagnosis. Typically, the entire tumour needs to be removed and examined before a final diagnosis can be made. Pathologists typically only use the term papillary lesion after examining a small sample of tissue called a biopsy. The diagnosis is made if some of the tissue examined under the microscope shows a papillary pattern of growth.

This picture shows an example of a papillary lesion of the breast examined under the microscope.
This picture shows an example of a papillary lesion of the breast examined under the microscope.
Examples of tumour that may be described as papillary lesions in the breast:
  • Intraductal papilloma: This is a very common type of non-cancerous tumour in the breast. Intraductal papillomas may be single or multiple and may cause a discharge from the nipple, especially if they are large and located inside the tissue below the nipple (subareolar area).
  • Papillary-type ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS): Papillary-type ductal carcinoma in situ (papillary DCIS) is considered a non-invasive type of breast cancer. Depending on the size, extent, and grade of the papillary DCIS, additional surgery, radiation and/or hormonal therapy may be required.
  • Encapsulated papillary carcinoma and solid papillary carcinoma: Intracystic papillary carcinoma and solid papillary carcinoma are both types of breast cancer but they tend to be relatively well-defined and localized. A small surgical procedure may be enough to remove the entire tumour in some cases. If your pathologist sees small groups of cancer cells moving away from the tumour into the surrounding tissue or cancer cells inside blood vessels and/or lymphatic channels, a more extensive surgery followed by hormonal therapy and/or radiotherapy and/or chemotherapy may be required.
  • Invasive papillary carcinoma: Invasive papillary carcinoma is a type of breast cancer that shows an extensive papillary pattern of growth. It has a better prognosis than other, more common types of breast cancer. Treatment for invasive papillary carcinoma includes surgery, hormonal therapy, radiation and chemotherapy.
What additional information should I look for in my pathology report after the entire tumour is removed?

Your pathology report provided for you by your pathologist after the entire tumour has been removed and a final diagnosis has been reached will include additional information such as the type of tumour, the size of the tumour, and whether the tumour cells have spread to other parts of the body. If your final diagnosis describes a type of breast cancer, your report will also include important additional information that will help you and your medical team decide which treatment options are best for you.

About this article

This article was written by doctors to help you read and understand your pathology report. Contact us if you have any questions about this article or your pathology report. Read this article for a more general introduction to the parts of a typical pathology report.

Other helpful resources

Atlas of Pathology
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