Bilateral Breast Cancer: Symptoms, Risk Factors, Treatment

Bilateral breast cancer is an uncommon type of cancer which causes multiple breast lumps. Here are its symptoms, risk factors and treatment. 

Navya Kharbanda
Written by: Navya KharbandaUpdated at: Nov 01, 2022 15:31 IST
Bilateral Breast Cancer: Symptoms, Risk Factors, Treatment

Bilateral breast cancer means that both breasts have individual cancers in them that require individual stage evaluation and treatment. This condition is not as common as one sided breast cancers and can be of two types – Synchronous and Metachronous.

OnlyMyHealth editorial team spoke to Dr. Meghal Sanghvi, Surgical Oncologist at SRV Hospital, Chembur, to know about the symptoms, risk factors, and treatment of bilateral breast cancer. This is what she had to tell us:

The synchronous bilateral breast cancer develops in a time frame of three to 12 months on the first side or sometimes both sides with lumps detectable at diagnosis from the start itself. However, a Metachronous cancer develops for more than a year after the first side is affected. In such cases, both cancers have separate origins and have not spread from one side to another and have not metastasized to the rest of the body.

The incidence of synchronous breast cancer is 1-2% and incidence of metachronous breast cancer is 5-6% in breast cancer patients. Both lumps are considered primary cancers and not as a spread. Bilateral breast cancers usually occur in younger women and are generally of a smaller size.

bilateral breast cancer

Symptoms of bilateral breast cancer

Signs and symptoms are usually the same as unilateral or common breast cancers. A PET scan is one of the most important tests in differentiating bilateral breast cancer from  metastatic breast cancer, i.e., cancer which has spread in the body. Here are the symptoms of bilateral breast cancer:

  • Swelling of all or one part of breast
  • Breast or nipple pain
  • Inward nipple retraction 
  • Breast skin redness, dryness, flaking, or thickening
  • Nipple discharge
  • Swollen lymph nodes

Risk factors for bilateral breast cancer

Risk factors for bilateral breast cancer include positive family history of breast cancer, obesity, and alcohol consumption. Risk factors for common unilateral breast cancers like hormone therapy and smoking have not been linked to increase the risk of bilateral cancers yet.

Bilateral cancers usually originate from glands of the breast while unilateral cancers usually originate from ducts of the breast. These cancers are also usually hormone negative, which means that hormone therapy (tablets used as maintenance therapy post treatment completion) may not be effective in these patients.

Bilateral breast cancer treatment

The treatment for these cancers is on similar lines with unilateral breast cancer. However, a lot more data is needed to understand this entity. Screening and awareness in the field of breast cancer has led to more accurate and early diagnosis of bilateral breast cancers of usually synchronous variety while advances in medical treatment with surgery, chemotherapy, hormone therapy etc. should reduce the incidence of metachronous breast cancers.

All image credits: Freepik