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UCL Culture Blog


News and musings from the UCL Culture team


Specimen of the Week 376: Carcinoma of the breast

By Subhadra Das, on 8 March 2019

Today’s specimen of the week comes from UCL Pathology Collections. The Collections are displayed at the UCL Pathology Museum at the Royal Free Campus of the UCL Medical School in Hampstead. The museum includes a medical teaching collection of nearly 3,000 specimens of human remains illustrating the history of disease. To open up these specialist medical displays to a wider audience, we’ve developed a trail of 10 specimens of well known diseases. As the museum only opens to the public for special events, we’re sharing the trail as part of the Specimen of the Week series.

All of the entries for the UCL Pathology Collections Top 10 Medical Trail have been written by Nazli Pulatmen, who worked with us for her MA Museum Studies placement in the summer of 2018.

Today’s specimen of the week is an advanced example of breast cancer. The specimen shows how the cancerous tissue has expanded to such an extent that it has completely misplaced and replaced the healthy tissue within the breast. The patient reported that the lump began at about the size of a pea and developed to this enormity over the course of 10 months.

Image of a cross-section of breast tissue showing malignant cancerous growth

Breast.25.1: Carcinoma of the breast. The cancerous tissue appears solid compared to the normal, fibrous breast tissue surrounding it.

The patient was treated with a mastectomy and skin graft and made a full recovery. Whilst lumps like the one reported by this patient are the most common symptom of breast cancer, most lumps found in the breast are harmless cysts. It is important to self-examine to ensure that early diagnoses can be made if the lump is cancerous, as this is the most important factor towards successful treatment. Breast cancer is the most common form of cancer diagnosed in the UK, and chances of recovery are very high when diagnosed early. Today there are many ways to treat breast cancer, including surgery, hormonal therapy, chemotherapy and radiotherapy and significant developments have been made in medicine which have improved the outlook for breast cancer patients. Technological developments have also been extremely significant in improving treatments for patients. Very recently – in October 2018 – Google has reported that they have developed artificial intelligence, which they’ve named LYNA (Lymph Node Assistant) which can scan patients for late-stage carcinoma of the breast with 91% accuracy, which is 10% higher than that of skilled and experienced pathologists. Whilst 1 in 8 women continue to be affected by carcinoma of the breast tissues, the cancer is becoming increasingly easier to treat with early diagnosis thanks to developments in the field.

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