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Cancer. 2004 Aug 1;101(3):508-17.

Feasibility of breast-conserving surgery for patients with breast carcinoma associated with nipple discharge.

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Department of Surgical Oncology, The University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center, Houston, Texas 77030, USA.



Few studies in the literature address the surgical management of patients with breast carcinoma who present with associated nipple discharge. The purpose of the current study was to determine the feasibility of breast-conserving surgery (BCS) for these patients.


The medical records of patients who presented with pathologic nipple discharge and underwent diagnostic or curative surgery between January 1990 and December 2002 were retrospectively reviewed.


A total of 188 patients presented with nipple discharge during the study period. Of those, 47 had breast carcinoma. One patient had metachronous bilateral nipple discharge associated with malignant disease. Therefore, medical records associated with a total of 48 cases were reviewed. The median patient age was 52 years (range, 29-87 years), and the median follow-up duration was 45 months (range, 6-109 months). Twenty-nine patients had ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS), 14 had Stage I disease, 3 had Stage II disease, and 2 had Stage III disease. Twenty-four patients were ultimately treated with mastectomy. For 16 of these patients, mastectomy was required because extensive disease was found in reexcisional segmental mastectomy specimens. Among patients with Stage 0 or I disease, the incidence of occult nipple-areola complex (NAC) involvement was 16% (3 of 19 patients). Twenty-four patients were ultimately treated with BCS with (n = 13) or without (n = 11) adjuvant radiotherapy. Local disease recurrence was noted at 14, 28, and 40 months, respectively, in 3 patients who declined adjuvant radiotherapy after BCS for DCIS. Among patients treated with BCS, comedonecrosis, multifocality, and the absence of adjuvant radiotherapy were associated with decreased local recurrence-free survival (P = 0.0005, P = 0.045, and P = 0.013, respectively). However, disease-free survival (mean +/- standard error) was similar for patients who underwent mastectomy and patients who underwent BCS (90 +/- 6 months; 95% confidence interval [CI], 78-101 months vs. 82 +/- 6 months; 95% CI, 69-94 months; P = 0.528). One patient with Stage I disease died of distant metastases at 99 months.


Patients with breast carcinoma accompanied by nipple discharge presented primarily with early-stage breast carcinoma associated with DCIS. Occult NAC involvement was not an uncommon finding in patients with early-stage breast carcinoma. Nonetheless, BCS can be performed safely if negative margins are achieved and if appropriate adjuvant radiotherapy or systemic therapy is administered.

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