Inflammatory Breast Cancer
If you are reading this, you may well already know about inflammatory breast cancer, a rare variant of the disease. IBC does not present with a lump or thickening, but, rather, as a red or inflamed breast or a rash. A telltale sign is sometimes "peau d'orange" or skin that looks like the skin of an orange. Often, a doctor mistakes IBC for an infection and puts a woman on antibiotics. When this does not help, this diagnosis becomes more possible. IBC is an aggressive form of breast cancer, but there has been enormous progress in its treatment. I know many women with IBC who are doing fine. One particularly gratifying story is a woman who attends my support group for women with metastatic or Stage IV breast cancer. She was initially diagnosed with IBC nine (or maybe, ten) years ago. At that time, it had already spread to her bones, and she was put on weekly Taxol. She is still on weekly Taxol, and the cancer has not spread one single bit.
Here is a summary from the Komen Foundation:
Inflammatory Breast Cancer
FACTS FOR LIFE
For more information, call Susan G. Komen for the Cure® at 1-877 GO KOMEN (1-877-465-6636) or visit www.komen.org.
Symptoms of inflammatory
There are many symptoms of inflammatory breast
cancer. It is important to see your doctor if you have
any of these symptoms:
• one breast becomes much larger than the other one
• warmth and swelling in the breast (often sudden)
• redness or pinkness that may look like an infection
• itching or pain in the breast that won't go away
• dimpling of the skin that may look like the skin of
an orange (called peau d' orange)
• ridges or thickened areas of skin
• nipple discharge
• nipple retraction or flattening
• change in the color of the areola (the dark skin
around the nipple)
• a bruise that does not go away
• swollen lymph nodes on the neck or under the arm
• a lump (although often there is no lump)
What is inflammatory breast cancer?
Inflammatory breast cancer (IBC) is rare and the most
aggressive form of breast cancer. It is called inflamma-
tory breast cancer because its main symptoms are
swelling and redness of the breast. Unlike other forms
of breast cancer, IBC often lacks a distinct lump or
tumor. Instead, cells grow in sheets that spread through
the breast. IBC is not usually found by mammograms
or ultrasounds unless there is a defined lump. If no
lump is present, it can be hard to diagnose. Because IBC
cells spread easily to other parts of the body, it requires
prompt diagnosis and treatment.
Who is at risk?
IBC accounts for about one to five percent of all breast
cancer cases in the United States.
• It is common in younger women. It has been seen in
women who are pregnant and in women who are
• It is slightly more common in African American
women than women of other races.
• Like other forms of breast cancer, it has also been
seen in men.
The symptoms of IBC are not always the same. It is
often misdiagnosed as a breast infection. Any of these
symptoms may be a sign of either IBC or a benign
breast infection (not cancer). If the symptoms last
longer than a week after starting antibiotics, insist
that your doctor do a biopsy to see if cancer cells
are present. If you do not feel that your doctor listens
to your concerns, get a second opinion.
Treatment for inflammatory
Treatment for inflammatory breast cancer often
starts with several rounds of chemotherapy, hormone
therapy or both. These systemic treatments affect the
whole body. They are used to kill or control any
cancer cells that might have spread to other parts of
the body. Then local treatments, such as radiation
therapy and surgery, are used to target the remaining
cancer cells in the breast and under the arm. Sometimes
systemic treatments are used again after the local
treatments. Systemic treatments used at follow-up
may include chemotherapy, hormone therapy and
If you have been diagnosed with inflammatory breast
cancer, know that there is hope. Advances in the
treatment of breast cancer have improved the 5-year
survival rates of women with IBC and new research is
ongoing. Staying positive is vital to your quality of life.
Ask your doctor about sources of help and support in
Susan G. Komen for the Cure®
1-877 GO KOMEN (1-877-465-6636)
American Cancer Society
IBC Research Foundation
Inflammatory Breast Cancer Clinic
National Cancer Institute
Young Survival Coalition®