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What Parents Should Know about Rare Breast Cancer in Children

rare breast cancer in children

The battle faced by Chrissy Turner, the eight-year-old girl from Utah who was recently diagnosed with a rare form of breast cancer, has captured the attention of people and may have especially concerned mothers and fathers around the world. What should parents know about this extremely uncommon form of breast cancer?


Secretary breast cancer is also known as juvenile breast carcinoma and juvenile secretory carcinoma. However, the authors of a report from McMaster University in Canada noted that although this form of breast cancer was “originally described as a juvenile breast carcinoma, occurring in young children,” most of the reported cases have been seen in adult women and men.

Secretory breast cancer is also characterized as triple negative, which means the tumors are negative for estrogen receptors, progesterone receptors, and ERBB2 (formerly known as HER2/neu). Triple-negative breast cancer usually does not respond to treatments that target the receptors but it is typically responsive to chemotherapy.

For parents who are concerned about the chances of their child developing this disease, the good news is that (1) it’s extremely rare, occurring in less than 0.15 percent of breast cancer cases; and (2) the prognosis is usually excellent.

A classic sign of secretory breast cancer is a lump or mass in the breast area (usually on one side only), as was the case with Chrissy Turner. Parents should look for any unusual lump or mass that affects the breast and have their pediatrician examine their child as soon as possible. It is possible the lump could be a benign cyst or other nonmalignant condition.

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Recent study of secretory breast cancer
A study reported in 2012 discussed the findings of 15 individuals (2 males, 13 females) ranging in age from 10 to 67 years who had been diagnosed with secretory breast cancer. The authors noted that although there’s no consensus on how secretory breast carcinoma should be treated, most patients have undergone surgeries ranging from local resection to radical mastectomy. Some experts consider this rare form of breast cancer to be more aggressive in adult women than in children.

In this group of patients, nine had a radical mastectomy, five underwent lumpectomy, and one had a simple mastectomy. During follow-up, which ranged from 10 to 55 months, none of the patients had a recurrence or spread of breast cancer.

Secretory breast cancer is an extremely rare occurrence in children. However, parents should always be alert to and encourage their children to report any unusual lumps they may find.

Also read: Preschool girl survives juvenile breast cancer

Lae M et al. Secretory breast carcinomas with ETV6-NTRK3 fusion gene belong to the basal-like carcinoma spectrum. Modern Pathology 2009; 22:291-98
Li D et al. Secretory breast carcinoma: a clinicopathological and immunophenotypic study of 15 cases with a review of the literature. Modern Pathology 2012; 25:567-75
Stanford Medicine
Triple Negative Breast Cancer Foundation
Vasudey P, Onuma K. Secretory breast carcinoma: unique, triple-negative carcinoma with a favorable prognosis and characteristic molecular expression. Archives of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine 2011 Dec; 135(12): 1606-10