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Inflammatory Breast Cancer - Topic Overview

How is inflammatory breast cancer diagnosed?

A biopsy is needed to diagnose this cancer. During a biopsy, the doctor takes a sample of the breast or the breast skin. The sample is looked at in a lab to see if it contains cancer cells.

It's very important to diagnose inflammatory breast cancer quickly so that treatment can begin. But because it is rare and usually doesn't make a lump, doctors may not recognize the symptoms right away. The cancer is often mistaken for other problems, like spider bites, an allergic reaction, or mastitis, which is a breast infection that is usually treated with antibiotics.

Antibiotics do not help inflammatory breast cancer. If your doctor has given you antibiotics and your symptoms do not seem to be getting better after a week, call your doctor.

After a biopsy shows that you have this type of cancer, your doctor will order more tests—such as a mammogram, a bone scan, or a CAT scan—to see if the cancer has spread.

How is it treated?

It's very important to treat this cancer as soon as possible. And more than one type of treatment may be needed. Treatment starts with anticancer drugs, called chemotherapy. These drugs help shrink the cancer.

Some tests will be done to help find which medicines will work best for you. These tests look at cancer cells from your biopsy to find out what kind of cancer you have. These tests include:

Chemotherapy is usually followed by surgery (mastectomy). During surgery, some of the lymph nodes camera.gif are removed. Afterwards, most women have radiation therapy.

More chemotherapy or hormone therapy (or both) may be used after radiation, especially if cancer has spread to the lymph nodes.

Women who test positive for HER-2 may be treated with trastuzumab (Herceptin) during chemotherapy and afterwards.

Talk with your doctor about taking part in a clinical trial. Many women who have inflammatory breast cancer are good candidates for clinical trials, which study new treatments for IBC and better ways to use current treatments.

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