It would seem to make little sense for a physician to diagnose breast tumors as malignant mesothelioma: The automatic assumption would be that the patient has breast cancer, and the treatment prescribed would be appropriate for that serious-but-common diagnosis. But a study published in The Breast Journal tells of a rare case in which a woman’s malignant mesothelioma had metastasized to her breast. The study illustrates the importance of careful pathological identification in order to provide the appropriate treatment.
Croatian Woman Diagnosed With Mesothelioma That Traveled to Her Breast
Whenever a patient presents with an unknown illness, their physician goes through a diagnostic process known as differential diagnosis in which they run their symptoms through all of the possible illnesses, eliminating until they arrive at the correct diagnosis. Though mesothelioma may be included on the list of possibilities, it is a rare disease, especially in women, and therefore is frequently eliminated early. In this case, a 61-year-old Croatian woman was originally thought to have breast cancer that later turned out to be mesothelioma that had metastasized to her breast.
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There are many reasons why mesothelioma could be mistaken for breast cancer. First, it is extremely unusual for mesothelioma to travel to the breast, and mesothelioma is much less likely to occur in women than in men. Additionally, most breast cancers start in the breast, with only between 0.5% and 6.6% traveling there from elsewhere in the patient’s body.
Importance of Diagnosing Mesothelioma Early
No matter where in the body malignant mesothelioma appears, it is essential that it is identified early so that the appropriate treatment protocol can be initiated. Mesothelioma and breast cancer are treated very differently, and any delay can have significant negative consequences. The physicians who published the case study pointed out that there are enough similarities between the two diseases for physicians to take extra precautions against allowing assumptions to lead them astray. Says lead author Lea Korša, of University Hospital Centre Zagreb, “The epithelioid type of MPM can represent a diagnostic pitfall in this setting. It shows similar histologic features to primary breast carcinoma as well as other metastatic epithelioid malignancies.”
This patient’s mesothelioma was likely a result of having worked with hairdryers insulated with asbestos. This further points to the importance of asking every patient about previous exposure to the carcinogenic material.
If you or someone you love has been exposed to asbestos, getting the proper diagnosis and treatment is essential. For more information about essential medical resources, contact the Patient Advocates at Mesothelioma.net at 1-800-692-8608.