How long do tumours take to grow?

Now I have just about finished my treatment I find myself wondering about all sorts - for example how fast do tumours grow? Not all at the same rate, I guess.

Also did the fact that I had previous surgery for a polyp ( or was it a similar name – a classic case of not getting full explanation at the time, just a 'don’t worry, it’s not cancer ) predispose me to develop cancer - it was in precisely the same area.

I am just having 15 sessions of radiotherapy - thank goodness - how do they decide? Are some types of cancer more difficult to zap?

Wish I could just be glad it’s over for the moment instead of tormenting myself with questions!.


My tumour was missed on the triple assessment as it was hidden under the fibroid I had removed. I asked my surgeon how long he thought it had been there and he said only about 6 months. I am Her 2+ and asked an Oncology Professor I know about this. He told me the gene had probably mutated when I was about 35, 10 years before diagnosis and it would have taken that length of time to become a small tumour, after which it becomes aggressive and spreads quickly. I have also read that the thing which causes Her2+ cancers is caused by something that should have switched off in your body at the age of 28.

The oncologists told me it measured 33mm when it was removed.

Hi Sarcath

I found a lump in Aug 07, it was really indiscernible at that time. By the time I had a biopsy at the end of Oct it had grown enough to be identifiable by sight, let alone touch. I guess that’s how I knew it was bad :frowning:

My consultant told me that, as a rule of thumb, grade 1 cancers can take up to 10 years before they can be felt as a lump. grade 2 5 years and grade 3 6 to 9 months.

I was grade 3 and from the point I thought something was not right with my breast (thickening of the skin) to diagnosis when I could feel 2 lumps( my tumour was H shaped like the Honda sign) was only 5 weeks. It was 4cm when I had my original biopsy and 8 days later when I had futher ultrasound almost 5 cm at the widest. I am Her2+++

Sharon x

Hi Sarcath

I had 3 yrly normal mammos from 50 yrs, on the NHS (bad decision, should have gone privately yearly as most of my younger friends do) and my friends in the USa have to do them a s a condition of their private medial insurance) and the 3rd one showed a 2 cm mass. It was not palpable.
I could kick myself now for not having yearly private mammos, but hindsight is a great thing. My cancer had spread to the lymph nodes by the time I had a lumpectomy and 8 sample nodes removed. I had to go back for total axillary removal and another node was cancerous. I was in absolute shock that this could have happened to me when I had the NHS prescribed 3 yrly mammos. I now believe, without evidence, that if I had had annual mammos, my cancer would not have progressed that far, but nothing I can do about it now, except to say, have annual private mammos.

I don’t know the answer to your question, and I guess, most bc surgeons don’t - all I believe in now, is have annual mammos, and if there is a problem, it can be caught early. I am mad that I went 3 yrs between mammos and my cancer had spread, yet I did all the NHS said we should do.
Food for thought to all of us?


But Lizzie,

So many lumps don’t show up on mammograms…I had 4 or 5 mammograms in the 4 or 5 years before my diagnosis…all they did was lull me into a false sense of security. So many cancerous lumps don’t show up because of dense breast tissue. We need to approach screening with an open mind…it is not infallible.

best wishes


My lump emerged and grew very quickly, I found a small thickening on a thursday night which had changed to a definite small lump by the saturday, urgent GP appt on the monday and urgent referral to BC 8 days later 18.10.05 again confirmed by consultant but nothing on the mammo, 3 FNA inconclusive called back 2 days later for US. this was also inconclusive but able to measure a blackhole at 2cm. 4 weeks later same blackhole now 4cm so 3 core biopsies taken, 13.12.05 results finally through and emergency surgery booked 21.12.05 - final measurement 8cm tumour + 15/20 nodes. grade2 and ER+ PR+ and her2++ borderline.

My consultant was very shocked at the quickness of growth (it was visible to the eye and I had to buy a different bra) once path report back with full picture said that he guessed I had probably had breast cancer in me for years, I was 37 when diagnosed with no family history.

I have met 2 other ladies with large tumours but that was how they were found on routine mammo’s and they had no idea how long they had them, they both had clear nodes.

I had 25 sessions of rads to 3 areas, but remember being told this was also to do with me wanting recon and its supposed to be kinder on the skin.

Re mammo’s I have no faith what so ever, had my 2 year check recently and again asked what was the point in being referred for a mammo and again same old reply they are 80% reliable, however every time I have a check up with either BC, ONC or PS and they have been very regular over the last 2 years I have a very thorourgh examination of armpits, boob, collarbone, neck and liver, so perhaps they also have their doubts.



Thank you all for your responses. I have found them most illuminating and interesting. My tumour was missed on mammogram so I really wanted to know how long it had been there - the oncologist just gave me the usual vague answer of ’ a few months '. I felt instinctively this was not so!

I think the problem with mammograms too is that it’s a ’ one size fits all ’ policy. I only found out later that there are a number of reasons why they are difficult to read - small breasts, previous surgery to breast eg. Both of these apply to me and in fact at my last mammogram which missed the cancer the first radiologist could not manage to X-ray the breast and had to fetch a colleague who claimed to have succeeded. I feel that at that point I should have been referred for an ultrasound check. Oh, the benefit of hindsight! Or at least warned to be extra vigilant!

Thanks Debbie for that info on radiotherapy. I think I am just neurotic but only have 4 sessions of 15 to go and not a mark on me - no redness, no soreness, no tiredness to speak of. Of course this makes me think it’s not working!
Like you I shall not be relying on mammograms in future but will insist on further checks.

I do wish you all well - I have found this site such a support. Thanks again!


On dx I was told I had a very slow growing 1cm tumour which had probably been there for two+ years.I wasn’t happy with this as it had appeared from out of nowhere and to me seemed to be growing! Infact after the biopsy it put on a spurt! When I mentioned this I was told that because I now knew it was BC my nerves were playing tricks! After my op, which due to Christmas was nearly four weeks later, I was told the tumour was 2.4cm and extremely fast growing triple neg .I was also told how lucky I was that it had only spread to my lymph nodes!!!

I had a mammogram in June 2006 all clear then in April 2007 I discovered a small lump which within 2 weeks was 5cm. had Lumpectomy and within another 2 weeks had two new lumps in same place both 5cm. each plus 21 of 24 nodes affected. I am Her—. Had TAC chemo but only 15 rads despite widespread node and tissue involvement. I was told my Cancer was extremely agressive and large celled. I guess we are all different as I had every test going for Cancer in the Summer of 2006 (due to an autoimmune condition linked to C.) and no trace was found so mine appeared very quickly.

I found a lump and had mammograms and ultrasound, nothing showed up but the lump was obvious to the touch. Fine needle aspiration was inconclusive and the consultant told me to stop HRT and go back in 8 weeks. I later had more ultrasound which again showed nothing so had core biopses done which came back positive for lobular cancer. I then paid for MRI scan to check other breast which was as clear as far as they could tell. Had mastectomy and immediate recon. with LD muscle and the tumour was 4.8cm I have no idea how long it had been growing, as lobular cancer is difficult to detect but is slow growing. Ductal cancers vary in grade and some can be very agressive. The radiotherapy can vary in doses, sometimes they give lower doses over a longer period. I am going to have 25 sessions over 5 weeks because of the recon. although I do not have an implant.
You should talk to the oncologist and clear up all the queries, I have a list for when I go!

Hi Sarcath

My BC was DX in Dec 07, after being called for my first Mammogram (initially called July but was on holiday wasn’t 50 until Oct, no lump etc, could not get back into the screening system, despite several phone calls, eventually got an appt for end Nov) was recalled and was told there was microscopic tumour, but they had caught it early, was extremely shocked, (I have always wondered if I had gone in July would it have been caught even earlier or would it have been even there will never know that answer so have to live with that), I had scan and biopsy when I went in for localisation on day of op, DR said there was a lump, had not been one prior to biopsy, I had WLE, SNB, tumour was 15mm, and I had 10 lymphs out 1 was infected. (They originally told me that because it was so microscopic it would not have spread.) I had the operation moved forward a week because I was so stressed. Originally I was told I would only need RADS, now I have been offered CHEMO which after a long hard think I have taken.

I know I am lucky that they found it early, I was also told by BC nurse “that some women don’t get their first Mammograms until they are 53, by then it would have been too late for me”

Like you I constantly torture myself with questions, my biggest worry once I knew I had it was what was it doing?

I have also come to the conclusion that sometimes they don’t “hit” you with everything, because emotionally we would not cope, I think they give it to you in little “Bite Size” stages when we can handle it, this is just my opinion. It’s a bit like climbing a mountain when you have got to what you think is the peak, there is another peak in the distance.

Good Luck with your treatment
Take Care

I’m one of the dense breast brigade, despite being 58 and 11 years past the menopause.

I discovered a small, smooth, mobile lump high up in my armpit, there was no palpable lump in my breast. At the breast clinic I was give a mammogram (clear) and ultrasound scan (clear), a core biopsy of the lump showed it was a lymph gland affected by bc cells. Another ultrasound still didn’t pick up any breast primary. Eventually an MRI scan showed 3 tiny lesions - so I had a mastectomy.

Histology showed one 3mm area of DCIS, one 3.5mm and one 6mm area of IDC. (Yes, that’s MILLIMETRES)!!! . I am ER and PR positive and HER-2+++, and the HER-2 positive had already spread to my lymph gland (only the one thankfully).

I was told I had probably had it for about 2 years so I, too, wonder about the point of mammograms in my particular case!

Sarcath, with regard to your “polyp”, I had to have two large cysts aspirated about 10 years ago, in the same breast I lost to breast cancer.


I had had a mammogram in the Jan all clear then in the july found the lump. I check my breasts every month and the lump had not been there the month before. 2nd mamogram showed nothing and ultrasound just a dense area. After the op I had a 15mm grade 3 tumour with 6 yes 6 lymph nodes affected. It is her2 receptive.

I was in the breast cancer screening trials from 40 to 48 - after my mammo at 48 I was told that I would enter the normal mammo screening at 50. I expected to be called when I was 50 = at 51 1/2 found a lump - 2cm visibly palpable, Grade 2 - extensive vascular invasion but no lymph node involvement. Received my letter for routine mammo while I was having chemo at 52 and 3 months. Was told that you are called for mammogram on your doctors surgery - they do a 3 yearly cycle of surgeries and you can be anywhere betwee 50 and 53 when first one called. I often think if I had been called at 50 would they have caught it early before it had spread to blood vessels. My Consultant said he thought I had had it about 18 months which was strange as 18 moths previously I fell badly and landed on my arm which cracked my collar bone on the side where the cancer grew. Love Sandra

Hi Sarcath

I had my first NHS screening at 50 - nothing was detected. Following my second at 54 I was recalled. After a couple more mammograms on my recall appointment the doctor was still unsure as to what was there. However, an ultrasound showed a large marrowfat pea type lump. That image is etched in my mind forever and the click of the ultra sound taking the image sealed my fate! I had a cone biopsy done there and then and a week later I was told I had BC. Following a lumectomy and a sentinal node biopsy, I was found to have had a 17 mm tumour with clear margins and had three lymph nodes removed for testing which fortunately were clear. I am ER+/HER 2 +++.

The fact is - the mammogram set the ball rolling. If I had not had it I dread to think what would have happened. I never felt a lump and was told that the tumour was growing very near the chest wall almost hidden by a muscle. By the time I would have felt/noticed anything it would probably have been extremely advanced. Therefore I am very grateful for the screening programme. My onc says that the powers-that-be are debating over whether or not to continue with it - the number of women actually benefitting from the programme not equating to the amount of money spent on it. He says that some countries (I think Finland/Denmark) have stopped. I know that mammograms are not without their problems but I don’t think they should be stopped.

I have been told there is a possibility that my tumour could have been in a microscopic form at my first mammogram and too tiny to detect.Because of the nature of the beast I don’t think that anyone can give a definite answer. I know what you mean about being tormented with questions. The whole situation is so worrying and frustrating. Sorry if I’ve waffled on a bit.

Take care

Jibby X

…and all the screening in the world is of no use if you are below the screening age in the first place.

My oncologist said that 15 rather than 30 sessions of rads delivered the same amount but in larger fractions. My skin did break down but not until i had finished the radiotherapy - about 2 weeks after i think.

I am so worried. I detected a small hard lump last week and it is solid and not very moveable. I can’t sleep for worrying. I am afraid I will die and not see my family grow up. I am 52 years if age

Don’t want to be going through this period of anxiety it’s like a nightmare