Does skin cancer after breast cancer treatment mean the treatment wasn't effective?

4 answers | Last updated: Nov 17, 2016
Charbo61 asked...

My mother is 76 years old and was diagnosed with late stage breast cancer in September 2007.  After 6 cycles of 1st line chemo for breast cancer, mastectomy of left breast and 28 cycles of radiotherapy - mum's cancer was back in the form of skin cancer.  Her left side of the body turn red, hard and has a woody feel to the touch. This left her in a stage where she is unable to sleep and there was considerable pain as well. After a biopsy was done on the skin, it was diagnosed as cancerous with same cell types as the breast cancer.  What has happened or did something go wrong with the treatment?  In August she underwent 2nd line chemo but mucosities has knocked her out of sync for 2 months.  A week after 2nd cycle she is bleeding when she urinates - is doxcetaxel and capecitabine too strong for her?

Expert Answers

Jessica J. Krant, MD, MPH, is a board-certified dermatologist specializing in medical, cosmetic, and surgical dermatology, including Mohs micrographic skin cancer surgery. In addition to her work in private practice, Krant is assistant clinical professor of dermatology at SUNY Downstate Medical Center.

Skin cancer can form after breast cancer, but I am not sure that is technically what happened in your mom's case. It sounds like she possibly had some radiation dermatitis after the original treatment, which is unfortunately common, but then possibly the original breast cancer itself spread to the skin. This is confusing because cancer is really identified by what cell it originates from, not necessarily where it is in the body.

I think it sounds like your mother had breast cancer cells IN the skin, rather than skin cancer itself, which is caused by cells that live in the skin and look different from breast cancer cells. Of course, without seeing it myself, I can not be sure.

Skin cancer (basal cell carcinoma or squamous cell carcinoma most likely) could possibly develop after damage to the skin from the radiation treatment, and lowering of her immune system by all this difficult chemo, but it usually would not occur right away, and would look different to the pathologist.

I see that your mom is having a tough time going through all this, and I am sure you are, too. Hang in there and remember you can always see a board-certified dermatologist for anything that develops with her skin or outer mucous membranes (mouth, genital area) to get some comfort while trying to get through the treatments.

Community Answers

Georgina may answered...

I too had breast cancer and now have found lesions on my skin just above the cancerous breast. The main one is Red with a crusty appearance, with two satellites, so I can relate to your answer. Georgina May

Charbo61 answered...

Thank you Jessica - mum's skin problem was breast cancer origin. We lost her over a year ago in October. Mum started 3rd line chemo but she had an an infection and when chemo stopped - she succumbed to her illness. We missed her so and she battled so bravely. I am very sorry for not getting back but it was a crazy time in our life and i was flying across oceans for a mad period of time tending to her but we lost her. She is now safe in God's arms and at peace. Dear Georgina - be strong and positive. Take care.

A fellow caregiver answered...

Breast cancer can come back in any place of the body and after 10, 26 years. Skin cancer is diferent, it can be melanoma, or others, they are not breast cancer in the skin, I had breast cancer in 1993,mastectomy and chemo. 4 months ago I had Mohs surgery for skin cancer, Basal cell carcinoma. I have dark hair,pale skin, never have tanned,avoid the outdoors because I live in TX is too hot. Why did I get it? Maybe I more suceptible to it. I have a huge scar on my face, it has affected me more that breast cancer. Doctors and people minimize this cancer, calling it "a good cancer"because rarely kills, but the scars? one is left deformed and affects even work. Not to mention the pain and just waiting to reocurr again.