Physicians have long noticed that breast cancer patients who have had surgery or radiation therapy have an heightened risk of developing angiosarcoma, a rare type of cancer that originates in the lining of the blood vessels.
Now, researchers at Loyola University Health System in Maywood, Ill., have focused in on a finding that could be a possible precursor to angiosarcoma. With further research this finding could lead to more definitive markers that could predict those who are most likely to develop the disease. Angiosarcoma is a malignant, rapidly growing, highly invasive type of cancer that has a high mortality rate.
In a case study published in the August issue of the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, researchers at Loyola identified what at first appeared to be only a tiny bruise on the right breast of a 63-year-old woman. Four years prior the woman had had a lumpectomy in the breast and radiation therapy for cancer. She had also had chemotherapy and hormone therapy.
"Normally, when you see a benign-appearing vascular lesion, you probably would pass it up," said Dr. Joshua Mandrell, a dermatologist who co-authored the report. "But given her history, we biopsied it and it did show that it was an atypical vascular lesion."
Atypical vascular lesions are abnormal vascular growths that are thought to form in response to trauma, such as that caused by surgery and radiation therapy, according to the study. The lesions are so rare that few medical professionals are aware of their existence. There are also no well defined prognosis factors or treatment guidelines for them.
"Atypical vascular lesions are not completely benign blood vessel growths and are not angiosarcoma. They are right in the middle. They are atypical enough that we suggest in our study that they warrant treatment," Mandrell said. "The thought is that they could potentially become angiosarcomas."
As a precaution, the patient's lesion and a significant amount of tissue surrounding it was surgically removed.
"We wanted to make sure that nothing was left that could progress to an angiosarcoma," Mandrell said.