While fungating breast cancer is relatively rare, knowing the symptoms is important so you can ask your doctor about your concerns. This also allows your doctor to plan effective treatment as quickly as possible to prevent skin infection and to treat breast cancer.
This article discusses symptoms of fungating breast cancer, as well as causes, treatment, prevention, and more.
Cancer cells break down the skin layers, causing a wound that decays, seeps, and sometimes smells foul. Any type of breast cancer, such as ductal carcinoma in situ, can develop into fungating breast cancer.
Fungating breast wounds can occur with primary cancerous tumors — the place in the body where cancer first begins — or secondary tumors. Metastatic cancer happens when cancer cells find their way to another part of the body and cause secondary tumors to grow away from the original cancer site.
Locally advanced breast cancer can cause fungating lesions because the tumor grows undetected for a long time, so it is often found in later stages. Larger tumors are more likely to involve cancer in other areas (metastases) than smaller tumors. Other times, a smaller cancerous tumor close to the skin surface but in an earlier stage causes a fungating breast cancer wound simply because it has better access to the skin layer.
The survival rate of fungating breast cancer depends on the stage classification of the cancer. When doctors determine the stage of cancer, they take into consideration the size of the tumor and whether it has spread to the lymph nodes or elsewhere. They also grade tumors on how quickly they appear to grow.
Larger tumors that cause fungating wounds often are classified in advanced stages, often stage 3. However, research shows that smaller tumors that cause fungating breast cancer wounds are not necessarily more advanced than smaller breast cancer tumors without skin lesions.
Metastatic breast cancer is the most common type that causes fungating breast wounds. More advanced fungating breast cancer tumors present a lower survival rate.
The American Cancer Society shows that the 5-year relative survival rate for breast cancer based on cancer spread is:
- localized: 99%
- regional: 86%
- distant: 29%
The 5-year relative survival rate of all stages combined is 90%.
Symptoms of fungating breast cancer
Fungating breast cancer involves a tumor near the skin or locally advanced breast cancer, so symptoms are the same as breast cancer.
- a new lump in your breast or underarm area
- swelling or thickening in part of the breast
- changes in the skin of the breast, including dimpling, rash, irritation, red or flaky skin, or a wound
- blood or other nipple discharge
- pain in the breast
- changes in the size or shape of the breasts
Aside from symptoms of breast cancer, skin wounds caused by fungating breast cancer usually appear on the chest and often do not heal.
The sores can cause:
- a bad smell
Fungating breast cancer can cause mental health difficulties as well, because the wounds are unpleasant and often harder to heal. People report shame, anger, anxiety, and guilt associated with fungating breast cancer.
Along with treating your physical skin wound, your doctor can suggest resources and strategies to help you cope with mental health complications that may arise from fungating breast cancer.
The exact cause of breast cancer that causes wounds, like most breast cancers, is unknown. However, data shows that some things about your lifestyle and your body that you can change, and others you cannot, affect your overall lifetime risk of developing breast cancer.
Breast cancer risk factors you cannot change include:
- being assigned female at birth
- inheriting mutations in BRCA1, BRCA2, or other genes
- having close family members who have had breast cancer
- having a previous breast cancer diagnosis or radiation treatment to the chest
- being of a taller height
- having dense breast tissue
- experiencing earlier menstruation, before age 12
- experiencing later menopause, after age 55
Breast cancer risk factors based on lifestyle include:
- drinking alcohol
- being overweight or obese
- not being physically active
- not having children or breastfeeding
- using birth control with hormones
- taking hormone therapy for menopause
- having breast implants
Methods to prevent fungating breast cancer are the same as preventing all breast cancers.
Fungating breast cancer is still breast cancer, but with ulcerating skin involvement. This means treatment is usually standardized based on the type, classification, and grade of the breast cancer. Your oncology team will determine the best treatment route for you.
Breast cancer treatment often involves:
There is little research into best practices to treat fungating breast cancer wounds, but recommendations shift based on whether or not the wound is infected. Wound care focuses on protecting the skin around the sore. It also attempts to control bleeding, oozing, and odor with dressings that are sometimes coated with silver to treat the infection.
Treating these wounds is tricky because more moisture can damage the skin even more. It is important to work with your doctor to find the right combination of skin dressing and medication to reduce symptoms.
Always follow instructions to avoid damaging the skin and making the sore worse.
If you notice any signs of breast cancer, such as a new lump, a wound on your chest, or other changes in your skin, contact your doctor immediately.
Because fungating wounds related to breast cancer are sometimes associated with advanced local breast cancer, it is important to seek treatment right away.
Recommendations for breast cancer screening vary, so it is important to speak with your doctor about the right screening for your risk factors.
In general, females at average risk of developing breast cancer who are between the ages of 40 and 49 should speak with their doctors about regular breast exams and annual screenings with mammograms.
Fungating breast cancer tumors cause ulcerating sores or wounds on the body, usually on the chest. Breast cancer tumors often are large and locally advanced, but sometimes they are smaller and closer to the skin surface.
There is no exact cause of fungating breast cancer, but treating it promptly is important to prevent the cancer from metastasizing and to avoid skin infection.
Make sure to screen regularly for breast cancer and visit your doctor if you notice a suspicious skin wound.
Treatment for fungating breast cancer includes managing the wound and treating the cancerous tumor. Treating the tumor might include several different options depending on the cancer type, stage, and grade, and your personal health history.