Can a Little Girl Have Breast Cancer?

Reviewed on 1/21/2021

What Is Breast Cancer?

Children can get breast cancer, though it is rare. Children and teens who develop breast cancer usually have hereditary markers, have some other cancer that has metastasized to the breast tissue or have a history of prior cancer treatment with radiation.
Children can get breast cancer, though it is rare. Children and teens who develop breast cancer usually have hereditary markers, have some other cancer that has metastasized to the breast tissue or have a history of prior cancer treatment with radiation.

Breast cancer occurs when cells in the breast become abnormal and grow out of control. 

Breast cancer can occur in both female and male children, however, most breast tumors in children are benign (not cancerous). 

Breast cancer is the most common type of cancer in females age 15 to 39 years, though it accounts for only 5% of all breast cancer cases. Breast cancer in this younger group tends to be more aggressive and difficult to treat.

What Are Symptoms of Breast Cancer?

  • The American Cancer Society’s warning signs and symptoms of breast cancer include:
  • Swelling or thickening of the breast
  • Irritation or dimpling of the breast skin
  • Pain in any area of the breast
  • Nipple pain
  • Nipple turning inward
  • Changes in the size or shape of the breast
  • Skin changes on the breast: redness, scaliness, flaky skin, or thickening of the nipple or breast skin
  • Nipple discharge that is not breast milk, including blood
  • Lump in the underarm area (armpit)
  • Breast lump
    • Not all lumps in the breast are cancerous; more than 80% are benign
      • It is impossible to tell by feel only whether a lump is cancerous or not
      • See a doctor if you notice any breast changes or lumps
    • Lumps that are tumors may feel firmer, versus normal spongy breast tissue
    • Lumps are usually irregularly shaped, not spherical (round)
    • Lumps usually can be moved around in the breast, however, in some cases a breast lump may be fixed, or stuck, to the chest wall
    • Lumps are usually painless (they may cause pain in some women)

What Causes Breast Cancer?

The cause of breast cancer in children is unknown, but certain risk factors are linked to the disease. 

Risk factors for breast cancer in children, teens, and young adults includes: 

  • Past treatment with radiation therapy to the breast or chest for another cancer, such as Hodgkin lymphoma
  • A personal history of a cancer that tends to spread to the breast, such as leukemia, lymphoma, rhabdomyosarcoma, or soft tissue sarcoma 
  • A family history of breast cancer in a close relative
  • Inherited changes in the BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene or in other genes that increase the risk of breast cancer

How Is Breast Cancer Diagnosed?

Breast cancer in children is diagnosed with a physical exam to look for breast changes such as:

  • A lump in the breast
  • Changes in the size or shape of the breasts
  • Dimpling skin on the breast
  • Pulling in of a nipple
  • Discoloration of breast skin

Tests used to confirm a diagnosis of breast cancer include: 

  • Mammogram (a special type of X-ray)
    • 3D tomosynthesis is a special new type of digital mammogram
  • Breast ultrasound 
  • Breast magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)
    • Not usually used to screen for breast cancer but may be used in the following situations:
      • Screening young women, espceially those with dense breasts, who have an increased risk of breast cancer (e.g., mutations in the genes BRCA1 or BRCA2)
      • Screening for breast cancer in women diagnosed with cancer of the lymph nodes (glands) 
      • Screening of women with newly diagnosed breast cancer with extremely dense breasts on mammograms
  • Biopsy, in which samples of tissue from the breast are removed and examined

What Is the Treatment for Breast Cancer?

Treatment for breast cancer in children usually involves a combination of surgery, radiation, chemotherapy, and other treatments. 

  • Surgery 
    • Mastectomy: surgical removal of the entire breast 
    • Lumpectomy: removal of the cancer and some tissue surrounding it
  • Radiation therapy 
  • Targeted therapy

Breast cancer in children is very rare so children may also be eligible for clinical trials.

What Is the Staging for Breast Cancer?

Staging refers to the extent of a cancer, however there is no standard staging system for childhood breast cancer.

QUESTION

A lump in the breast is almost always cancer. See Answer

Health Solutions From Our Sponsors

Reviewed on 1/21/2021
References
https://www.uptodate.com/contents/breast-cancer-the-basics

https://www.uptodate.com/contents/breast-cancer-guide-to-diagnosis-and-treatment-beyond-the-basics

http://www.cancer.org/cancer/breastcancer/overviewguide/breast-cancer-overview-what-causes

https://www.breastcancer.org/

https://blog.dana-farber.org/insight/2019/12/what-does-a-breast-cancer-lump-feel-like/

https://seer.cancer.gov/statfacts/html/breast.html

https://www.cancer.gov/types/breast/patient/child-breast-treatment-pdq

https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/10813345/