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Inflammatory Breast Cancer

Inflammatory breast cancer is a locally advanced breast cancer that may not be detected by mammogram or ultrasound.

Inflammatory  breast cancer is a rare and aggressive form of breast cancer, accounting for approximately 1% to 6% of all breast cancers diagnosed in the United States. 

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Inflammatory breast cancer is now separated from other forms of locally advanced breast cancer. It is marked by:

  • A shortened survival.
  • A higher incidence of HER2-positive and endocrine receptor negative cancers.

It is often diagnosed at a younger age compared to non-inflammatory locally advanced breast cancers.

What Are the Symptoms of Inflammatory Breast Cancer?

Unlike the more common form of breast cancer, inflammatory breast cancer does not generally show up as a lump. The disease grows as nests or sheets that clog the lymph system under the skin. Often the symptoms are attributed to other diseases. Therefore, the diagnosis of inflammatory breast cancer may be delayed.

Symptoms of inflammatory breast cancer include:

  • Pain in the breast. Often inflammatory breast cancer is mistaken as a breast infection and treated with antibiotics. If response to antibiotics doesn't occur after a week, request a breast biopsy or referral to a breast specialist.
  • Skin changes in the breast area. You may find pink or reddened areas often with the texture and thickness of an orange.
  • A bruise on the breast that doesn't go away.
  • Sudden swelling of the breast.
  • Itching of the breast.
  • Nipple retraction or discharge.
  • Swelling of the lymph nodes under the arm or in the neck.

These changes often occur quickly, over a period of weeks.

How Is Inflammatory Breast Cancer Diagnosed?

Inflammatory breast cancer is often misdiagnosed as another medical condition. It's important to pursue a breast or skin biopsy if treatment for another breast condition like an infection doesn't work.

How Is Inflammatory Breast Cancer Treated?

Inflammatory breast cancer is an aggressive cancer that can spread quickly. Treatment options include:

  • Surgery. Surgery involving a mastectomy may be performed after chemotherapy.
  • Chemotherapy. This is given before surgery to shrink the tumor and make the cancer operable. Chemotherapy also decreases the chance the cancer will recur.
  • Radiation. Often radiation is given after chemotherapy and surgery to reduce recurrence.

WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by Arnold Wax, MD on May 09, 2012
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