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Mod Pathol. 2013 Mar;26(3):343-9. doi: 10.1038/modpathol.2012.191. Epub 2012 Nov 23.

Non-mammary metastases to the breast and axilla: a study of 85 cases.

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Department of Pathology, Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, New York, NY 10065, USA.


Non-mammary metastases to the breast and axilla are rare occurrences. However, they are important diagnostic considerations as their treatment and prognosis differ significantly from primary breast cancer. Between 1990 and 2010, we identified a total of 85 patients, 72 women and 13 men, with non-mammary malignancies involving the breast, axilla, or both. The tumor types consisted of carcinoma (58%), melanoma (22%) and sarcoma (20%). Ovary was the most common site of origin for carcinoma, and metastatic high-grade ovarian serous carcinoma was most frequently misdiagnosed as a primary breast carcinoma. Melanoma was the single most common non-carcinomatous tumor type to involve the breast and/or axilla, and uterine leiomyosarcoma was the most common type of sarcoma. Most patients (77%) had other metastases at the time of diagnosis of the tumor, but in 11% the breast or axillary lesion was the first presentation. Without a clinical history, non-mammary metastases were difficult to diagnose because the majority of cases presented with a solitary nodule and lacked pathognomonic pathologic features. There were, however, certain recurrent histological findings identified, such as the often relatively well-circumscribed growth pattern of the metastatic lesion surrounded by a fibrous pseudocapsule, and the absence of an in situ carcinoma. Overall, these patients had poor survival; 96% of patients with follow-up available are dead of disease, with a median survival of 15 months after the diagnosis of the breast or axillary lesion. This finding emphasizes the need to accurately identify these tumors as metastases in order to avoid unnecessary procedures and treatments in these patients.

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