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Inflammatory Breast Cancer

Inflammatory breast cancer is a rare, aggressive form of breast cancer that accounts for approximately one to two percent of newly diagnosed invasive breast cancers in the United States. It is usually not detected by mammogram or ultrasound and is often misdiagnosed as a rash or infection.

Inflammatory breast cancer (IBC) grows very rapidly, with symptoms of the disease appearing in a matter of days to weeks. Unlike other forms of breast cancer, women with IBC may not feel a lump, but instead would notice other symptoms, including:

  • Dimpled skin (like an orange peel)
  • Inverted or flattened nipple
  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • Pain, swelling or rash
  • Rapid increase in breast size
  • Skin hot to the touch
  • Ridges or thickened areas of skin
  • Persistent itching

If treatment for another breast condition, such as mastitis, does not work, or if one or more symptoms continue for more than a week, women are encouraged to seek medical advice immediately. Imaging studies and a surgical or skin biopsy may be done to confirm the presence of IBC.

Treatment options for IBC usually begin with chemotherapy to kill cancer cells, reduce swelling and decrease the risk for recurrence. Surgery is then recommended to remove the affected area. Radiation therapy may follow surgery to further reduce the risk of recurrence.

Historically IBC was treated by surgery and had a 100 percent mortality rate. However, significant progress has been made in recent years by combining chemotherapy, surgery and radiation therapy to treat patients with IBC. The five year-survival rate now stands between 25 to 50 percent, and approximately one-third of women diagnosed with IBC will live 10 years or more. 

A diagnosis of IBC can be frightening, but there is hope. Clinical trials, advances in treatment and new drugs are helping with the fight against IBC. Be your own best advocate. If you notice any symptoms of IBC seek medical attention right away. The earlier inflammatory breast cancer is diagnosed, the better your prognosis and quality of life.

For a referral to a physician near you, please call 800-681-2733
. To schedule a mammogram at the Cypress Fairbanks Women's Imaging Center, please call 281-897-3121.